President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at reports that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating him for obstruction of justice, suggesting that such allegations have been cooked up to replace accusations that his campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump wrote Thursday morning on Twitter. In a subsequent post, Trump attacked those investigating him, calling them “very bad and conflicted people,” although he did not specify whether he was referring to the congressional probes into his 2016 campaign or the special counsel’s investigation.
“You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA,” Trump wrote.
The pair of posts marked a dramatic shift in tone from the president, who spent Wednesday in a unifying mode following a shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice in Virginia. The gunman, who was killed in an exchange of fire with U.S. Capitol Police, left five people injured, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
In televised remarks delivered from the White House Diplomatic Room, Trump said that “we do well in times like these to remember everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.” Hours later, The Washington Post reported that Mueller, tasked with leading an independent Russia investigation, had expanded that investigation to examine whether the president committed obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s probe reportedly includes not only Trump’s conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, in which the president allegedly asked Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but also interactions between Trump and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.
According to the Post report, the investigation into whether Trump sought to obstruct justice began shortly after he fired Comey, in line with private assurances that the former FBI director offered to the president that he was not under investigation at the time.
Trump has loudly denied that there was any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin and has suggested that Comey lied about his interactions with the president regarding Flynn. Trump has suggested that there could be recordings of his interactions with Comey that would vindicate him, although he has yet to release those recordings or even confirm their existence.
The president’s denials have seemingly done little to assuage the concerns of the American public. A poll released Thursday by The Associated Press found that more than 60 percent of Americans think that Trump “has tried to impede or obstruct the investigation” into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The poll also shows that 68 percent of those surveyed are at least moderately concerned that the president or someone associated with his campaign had ties to the Kremlin that would be considered inappropriate. Forty-eight percent said they were either “very concerned” or “extremely concerned.”
While Trump opted against naming which “very bad and conflicted people” he was referring to in his Thursday morning post, allies of the president have been much more direct in their criticism. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched a multipost flurry on his own Twitter account Thursday morning in the wake of the Post report.
“What happened to Russia? Anti-Trump focus of ‘special’ counsel should now be clear. Mueller is the ‘anti-Trump special counsel,’” Gingrich wrote. “Mueller is now clearly the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency. Mueller is setting up a dragnet of obstruction, financial questions and every aspect of Trump’s life and his associates’ lives. Very dangerous.”
“The brazen redefinition of Mueller’s task tells you how arrogant the deep state is and how confident it is it can get away with anything,” the former speaker added.
Gingrich’s statements of late regarding Mueller mark an about-face for the former speaker, who initially called the special counselor a “superb choice” whose “reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” By Tuesday, as other Trump allies worked to discredit Mueller on Twitter and through TV appearances, Gingrich shifted his tone, writing online that “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.”
Despite his criticism, Gingrich, who claimed to have spoken to the president on Monday night, said he did not believe Trump would fire Mueller, something he had been reportedly considering earlier this week. Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s who heads the conservative outlet Newsmax, said Monday that he believed Trump was considering dismissing Mueller, although he later said he had not talked to the president directly about the issue.
The White House, too, has said Trump does not have plans to fire Mueller, although it has maintained that he has the right to if he chooses. Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys handling the Russia investigation, declined Sunday to rule out the possibility that the president might dismiss the special counsel.