This week in Trump-Russia news: Trump continues to shake up staff as Mueller fight looms
President Donald Trump appears to be readying for a fight with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Not only has he continued to bash the Russia investigation — he’s also spent the last week making moves that have raised concerns that he is planning to fire the special counsel.
Here’s what happened this week in the Russia investigation — and why Democrats, and even some Republicans, are concerned about the future of the Russia probe.
Trump shuffles staff
The White House staff shakeup continued this week, with John Dowd resigning as Trump’s lead attorney in the Russia probe and the president ousting H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser.
John Bolton — the mustachioed foreign policy hawk — will replace McMaster and become Trump’s third national security adviser in just 14 months. It was also announced this week that the president will add Joseph diGenova to his legal team, though the Fox News pundit has yet to be officially retained amid conflict of interest concerns, according to Reuters.
Bolton and diGenova have something in common: they have both expressed hostility toward the conclusion reached by United States intelligence and federal law enforcement that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in support of Trump.
Bolton has suggested that the intelligence community’s findings were actually a false flag operation by former President Barack Obama’s administration, and diGenova — a former federal prosecutor — has floated the conspiracy theory that the FBI and Department of Justice are attempting to “frame” Trump with a “falsely created crime.”
The moves come on the heels of the firing of Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI who claimed he was terminated as part of Trump’s “ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”
Dowd called for the Mueller probe to be shut down immediately after the firing, and Trump took to Twitter to say that the investigation never should have been started in the first place. He also complained that Mueller’s team had “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans.”
“Does anyone think this is fair?” Trump tweeted.
The White House has said he is not considering firing the special counsel, but lawmakers — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — have warned Trump to let the investigation continue unimpeded.
“If he tried to [fire Mueller], that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” Graham said Sunday.
Mueller outlines topics for Trump interview
Meanwhile, the Mueller probe continues to chug along.
This week, it was reported that he’s outlined for Trump’s lawyers the areas he’d like to discuss with the president: the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey; the meeting his son, Donald Trump Jr., and other high-ranking campaign officials took with a Russian lawyer in 2016; and the misleading statement he and outgoing communications director Hope Hicks crafted aboard Air Force One to explain the shady rendezvous.
Trump Jr. initially said that the meeting had concerned Russian adoptions, but it was soon revealed that he’d taken the meeting because he believed the Kremlin-connected attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had dirt on Hillary Clinton — his father’s Democratic opponent.
Mueller has been investigating that meeting as part of his probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The special counsel is investigating the deceptive statement about the meeting, as well as the 2017 ousters of Flynn and Comey, as part of his inquiry into potential obstruction of justice on the part of the president.
It’s not yet clear if Trump is willing to interview with the special counsel.
It was reported in February that Trump’s legal team is wary of the president testifying before investigators. Trump himself has given conflicting answers when asked if he’d interview, but said Thursday that he “would like to” give testimony.
Senate Intelligence probe calls for “urgent” action
The House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe may melted down, but its Senate counterpart appears — at least publicly — to be going strong.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday announced it was wrapping up “one piece” of its investigation, calling on the U.S. Congress to take “urgent” action to safeguard future elections against foreign influence.
“It is clear the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election system and highlighted some of the key gaps,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-S.C.), the chairman of the committee, said in a press briefing Tuesday. “We need to be more effective at deterring our adversaries.”
The committee was not prepared Tuesday to address other aspects of the investigation, including the question of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, focusing solely on the issue of election security.
In a two-page draft report, the committee called for an increase in funding for state election protections; the development of stronger defenses against cyberattacks; improved communication between the federal government and state and local officials; and the replacement of “outdated and vulnerable” voting systems.
The announcement — in which both Republicans and Democrats appeared at the podium together — seemed a stark contrast to the House investigation, which Republicans concluded a week earlier after more than a year of partisan chaos.
Members of the Intelligence Committee on Tuesday praised leaders Burr and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) for conducting a bipartisan investigation, and demanded action to protect U.S. elections ahead of November’s midterms.
“We are already in an election year,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in the press briefing Tuesday. “The need to act now is urgent.”