This week in Trump-Russia news: Republicans sharpen their knives for possible showdown with Mueller
On the heels of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea last week, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have taken aim at Robert Mueller — the special counsel they say is leading a politically motivated witch hunt.
Many Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), had previously indicated that they would keep Trump from touching Mueller.
But as Trump amped up his attacks on the intensifying FBI investigation in recent days, some Republicans signaled that they may be going to bat for the president — raising questions as to whether or not the special counsel’s findings will result in any meaningful action.
Here’s how Republicans are pushing back on the FBI — and everything else you need to know out of the Russia investigation this week.
Trump, Republicans attack FBI over Strzok
The news that Peter Strzok — the prosecutor Mueller reportedly dismissed over anti-Trump texts — played a key role in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal opened the door for Trump and Republicans to suggest the bureau is biased.
Trump tweeted Sunday that the FBI’s reputation is in “tatters” and that the probe into Clinton’s handling of classified information had been “tainted.”
He also suggested last weekend that Flynn being targeted instead of Clinton was evidence of a “rigged system.”
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee took Trump’s concerns to FBI Director Christopher Wray Thursday, pushing him during a hearing to answer their questions about Strzok, who reportedly played a role in changing James Comey’s characterization of how Clinton handled classified information from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.”
Republicans, including Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), implied that the FBI was biased in favor of Clinton — suggesting that it was also biased against Trump.
But Wray defended the bureau, saying that “our reputation is quite good.”
Trump calls “fake news” on CNN’s sloppy reporting
CNN gave Trump an early Christmas gift Friday when it incorrectly reported that WikiLeaks gave his campaign an early look at hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee.
The network initially said the campaign received a link to the documents Sept. 4, 2016 — before WikiLeaks released them publicly. But the Washington Post obtained an email later in the day and revealed that the email had actually been received Sept. 14, 2016 — after the documents were already out.
CNN issued a correction after the Post’s report, but it was too late: Trump pounced on the error, claiming Saturday that the outlet made a “vicious and purposeful mistake.”
“CNN’s slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS,” Trump tweeted. “Their slogan should be CNN, THE LEAST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS!”
Trump has claimed reports about his Russia connections are “fake news.”
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, was revealed in November to have communicated with WikiLeaks — which is considered by United States intelligence to be aligned with the Kremlin — in the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race.
Flynn promised Russia sanctions would be “ripped up”
Flynn, who pleaded guilty Dec. 1 to lying to the FBI over his Kremlin contacts, told a business associate that sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” when Trump took office, according to a whistleblower’s account released by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) this week.
Flynn had been involved in a plan with Russia to bring nuclear reactors to the Middle East.
Within minutes of Trump’s inauguration, the whistleblower apparently told Cummings, Flynn texted his associate that the venture was “good to go,” suggesting that the former national security adviser had business-related motivations to kill the sanctions that former President Barack Obama placed on Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller says Manafort defied court with Ukraine op-ed
Paul Manafort broke a court order to avoid talking about his case when he was involved in editing a recent op-ed defending his work in Ukraine, prosecutors said this week.
The article, which was also published this week, was authored by a former spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. According to Mueller’s team, the former Trump campaign chairman did line edits on the essay.
Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted by the special counsel in October on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the U.S.
They each pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Financial probe sets up possible Trump-Mueller fight
Mueller has subpoenaed Deutsche Bank records of people affiliated with Trump, it was reported this week.
It had been suggested earlier that the special counsel was seeking the bank records of the president himself, but the White House denied the reports. Outlets later amended their reporting, clarifying that the subpoena was for records of Trump associates.
Still, Mueller’s interest in financial matters may rankle Trump, who said over the summer that he would consider probes of his or his family’s finances a “red line.”
The special counsel has already seemingly stepped over that line, though, as he’s been examining the president’s financial ties to Russia since at least August.
As Bloomberg noted Wednesday, Trump owed Deutsche about $300 million in those halcyon days when he was but a humble real estate mogul and reality television star and not the president.
What’s next in the Trump-Russia probe?
Mueller has continued to conduct interviews with members of Trump’s inner circle.
This week, his prosecutors met with Hope Hicks — the president’s communications director and longtime confidante.
She had been warned by the FBI about Russian outreach during Trump’s transition, the New York Times reported Friday.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ hostility toward Mueller — as well as their continued support for accused child molester and Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore — has led some observers to wonder if there’s anything the special counsel can discover that would result in any action against Trump.
“Trump boasted during the campaign that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose support,” the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote Friday. “As far as the GOP majorities in Congress are concerned, he may be right.”