This Week in Trump-Russia News: Midterms may impact Mueller probe. But will Mueller impact midterms?
The upcoming midterms are poised to have a major impact on the outcome of the Russia probe.
But how will the inquiry into President Donald Trump’s possible conspiracy with Moscow impact the Nov. 6 election?
Democrats have largely been quiet about Robert Mueller’s investigation in recent weeks, instead hammering Trump and the Republicans over issues like health care.
Trump and his allies, meanwhile, have long made the election about the survival of his presidency — when they’re not attempting to motivate their right-wing base with scary, misleading and racist claims about immigrants.
So, will the Russia issue hurt Trump as his party seeks to maintain their grip on Capitol Hill? Or will it help him, inspiring his base to rally around him in an effort to safeguard him from the intense scrutiny he’ll likely face if Democrats make gains?
Democrats take on Trump “corruption”
Democrats have largely stayed away from the Russia talk, opting instead to campaign more generally against Trump’s “corruption.”
“They promised to take on corruption. Remember that?” former President Barack Obama said at a campaign rally last week. “They have gone to Washington and just plundered away. In Washington, they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team.”
“Nobody in my administration got indicted,” he added.
Nevertheless, the Russia probe has loomed over the Democrats’ midterm push.
So far, Trump’s attempts to undermine Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation have been met with little to no pushback from the Republicans who control both the House and the Senate. On the contrary, many of Trump’s conservative allies have effectively run cover for the president, acting as foot soldiers in his battle against the special counsel.
But a Democratically-controlled House is likely to intensify scrutiny of the president, and could even revive the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and other Republicans on the committee prematurely shut down in March.
“The fact of the matter is that the American public has had enough of the Republican Party covering up Trump’s misconduct and corruption,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) told Mic this week. “They want answers and Democrats are going work to provide them and hold the president accountable.”
Trump paints midterms as referendum on impeachment
Sensing that Democrats could hold his feet to the fire if a blue wave washes over Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Trump has been characterizing the midterms as a battle for the future of his presidency.
“How do you impeach somebody that’s doing a great job?” Trump said during a Montana rally for Rosendale in September. “We’ll worry about that if it ever happens. But if it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote.”
While it remains unlikely Trump could be ousted, the House — which Democrats are predicted to win — could, in fact, begin impeachment proceedings.
Two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — but neither were convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon likely would have been impeached and removed from office, but he resigned first.
Still, Democratic victories Nov. 6 could threaten Trump’s presidency.
Republicans are said to be bracing themselves for the laundry list of investigations Democrats could launch if they take control of the House — including multiple related to Trump’s ties to Russia.
The president’s allies anticipate investigations into Trump’s dealings with Russia, his firing of former FBI director James Comey and his elusive tax returns if the midterms don’t go their way.
Midterms will likely impact Russia probe
While it’s not yet clear how the Russia probe will impact the midterms, the midterms could have a drastic impact on the Russia probe.
Mueller is expected to deliver key findings of his inquiry to the Department of Justice after the election. What happens next may be largely dependent on what happens when voters go to the ballot box Tuesday.
If Mueller finds wrongdoing on Trump’s part, a Republican-controlled Congress could brush aside the special counsel’s report. They could also look the other way if Trump fires Mueller, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and/or attorney general Jeff Sessions — a move that could gift the Russia inquiry to a Trump loyalist that could hamstring the probe or try to keep its conclusions from the American public.
But a Democratically-controlled Congress could mean real consequences for the president if Mueller finds evidence of conspiracy with the Kremlin or obstruction of justice. The House could pass legislation to protect the special counsel; they could intensify investigations into his ties to the Kremlin; and they could even move to impeach him.
Mueller closes in on Stone as conservatives launch smear effort
With the Mueller probe continuing to loom over the Trump White House, a pair of far-right Trump allies appear to have recently launched an effort to smear the special counsel to undermine his probe — and/or the journalists reporting on it.
Mueller’s office on Tuesday announced that it had asked the FBI to investigate “allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel.”
It’s a confusing story, but seems to have originated with 20-year-old Trump acolyte Jacob Wohl and publicity-seeking conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman, who held a bizarre, off-the-rails press conference to push the smear on Thursday.
Several journalists, including star New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, have described the allegations as a “hoax.”
Mueller’s team has referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.
Before the apparent smear campaign against Mueller emerged, his investigation had been fairly quiet as the midterms neared.
But he appears to have continued working behind the scenes, seeming to close in on Trump confidante Roger Stone.
Mueller’s team has met yet again with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, interviewing him Oct. 26 specifically about Stone.
Meanwhile, Stone has begun gearing up for a fight with the special counsel, adding more lawyers to his team and taking voluntary polygraph tests — which are notoriously unreliable — in an effort to demonstrate his innocence.
Stone has long appeared to be under the special counsel’s microscope.
The former Trump unofficial adviser had admitted to communicating with a fictitious online persona Russia used to disseminate documents stolen from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party, and had apparently bragged in the past that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had briefed him on leaked Clinton and DNC emails before they were released.
He acknowledged that he was “probably” the unnamed person referenced in Mueller’s indictment of Russian election hackers in 2016 that had allegedly been in contact both with Moscow and with top Trump officials.