WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump bashed federal investigators on Twitter for the fourth day in a row Monday for what he called “the greatest witch hunt in U.S. political history.”
At the same time, critics suggested that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea could present, as Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus opined, “the moment that changed everything.”
Before he boarded Marine One, Trump told reporters he felt “very badly” for Flynn.
“Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her,” Trump said, in a reference to his uncorroborated belief that Clinton lied when the FBI questioned her about the private email server on which the former secretary of state received classified information. (There is no transcript.) “Flynn lied and they destroyed his life.”
Trump also may have dug his own hole deeper when he tweeted over the weekend that he had fired Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The Russia story has two schools of interpretation; only time will tell which one is correct.
There’s “a clear indication” that in firing Flynn, Trump “was attempting to obstruct justice by trying to turn off the Russian investigation,” argued Max Bergmann, senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
Flynn lied to the FBI even though he didn’t need to, said Bergmann. Obviously Flynn felt a need to hide something.
On the other side, Mark Corallo, a GOP strategist who briefly worked for Trump’s legal team, sees the Flynn deal as a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller is wrapping up the Russian probe.
FBI investigators “looked at it and figured at the end of the day, this is the best we can do,” said Corallo. Because Trump fired Flynn, everyone knew the retired had general lied to the FBI. That’s what the charge is – and no more.
“I’ve always thought this whole Russia collusion meme was a fantasy,” Corallo said.
Skeptics of the probe see all the charges to date as predictable dead ends.
The special counsel’s office has charged former campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates for income tax invasion, money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents. Trump supporters say: No surprise to insiders.
The guilty plea of low-level volunteer George Papadopoulos, 30, doesn’t provide evidence for a collusion scenario.
“We only know what Robert Mueller wants us to know,” Bergmann responded.
Trump also has been gathering string to support his belief that the Russia probe is part of left-wing Washington’s bid to blame the Russians for Clinton’s surprise election loss.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted about news reports that Mueller had dismissed an FBI agent from the Russian election meddling probe after the agent exchanged anti-Trump texts with a colleague.
“Report: ‘ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE,'” Trump wrote. “Now it all starts to make sense!”
The agent, Peter Strzok, also led the probe into Clinton’s private server — a probe that did not result in any criminal charges. CNN reported Monday that Stzrok edited Comey’s statement that faulted Clinton for being “extremely careless.” Before Strzok’s edit, Comey’s statement called Clinton “grossly negligent.”
Trump also highlighted an ABC News story that the network had to correct. On Friday, ABC News’ Brian Ross reported that Trump himself had directed Flynn to contact the Russians during the campaign.
Later Friday, ABC News issued a clarification on Twitter: “Flynn prepared to testify that President-elect Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians *during the transition* — initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria, confidant now says.” ABC later upgraded the clarification to a correction and suspended Ross for four weeks.
Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to @ABC News for suspending Brian Ross for his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt. More Networks and “papers” should do the same with their Fake News!”
Bergmann warned Republicans not to spike the football because the early news hasn’t sewn up the case.
He said, “This game is going to go on for a long time.”