Donald Trump is giving Americans a glimpse of the fury raging inside him as a pivotal moment nears for special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, and different strands of political and legal vulnerability swirling around the President become ever more threatening.
Trump launched his most personal attack to date against Mueller in a tweetstorm Sunday unleashed just two days before the special counsel's office takes its first prosecution -- that of the President's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort -- to trial in Virginia.
"There is no Collusion! The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt, headed now by 17 (increased from 13, including an Obama White House lawyer) Angry Democrats, was started by a fraudulent Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC. Therefore, the Witch Hunt is an illegal Scam!" Trump tweeted Sunday.
Trump's tweets on Sunday represented his most specific attempt yet to discredit any findings of the Mueller investigation into alleged election collusion with Russians, following clear signs that his previous assaults have been effective in hardening the opinion of GOP voters against the probe.
The attacks are not simply a window into his own rage, they also represent a coherent hardball strategy to unite his ever loyal political base and other Republicans behind him. With 100 days to go until midterm elections, that could be tough for the GOP.
But they also have the effect of wresting attention from the President's best hope of averting a Democratic rout in the election, the building narrative that he has unleashed a period of national prosperity, highlighted by economic growth rate of 4.1% in the second quarter of the year.
A week of drama related from Cohen and Mueller
The President's Sunday outburst came days after CNN reported that Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer, is willing to tell Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump tower in which Russians were willing to hand over dirt on Hillary Clinton. The President has denied he knew about the meeting beforehand.
Also last week, it emerged that Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has been subpoenaed in the federal criminal investigation into Cohen in a move that adds to a sense that a net is closing around the President's inner circle.
And ironically, given the President's chosen method of attack Sunday, The New York Times reported last week that Mueller was examining Trump's tweets to see whether they show malicious intent to obstruct justice in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
"Is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump, including the fact that we had a very nasty & contentious business relationship, I turned him down to head the FBI (one day before appointment as S.C.) & Comey is his close friend," Trump said in a second tweet.
The President followed up with a third blast against Mueller.
"...Also, why is Mueller only appointing Angry Dems, some of whom have worked for Crooked Hillary, others, including himself, have worked for Obama....And why isn't Mueller looking at all of the criminal activity & real Russian Collusion on the Democrats side-Podesta, Dossier?"
Trump's trio of tweets were packed with inaccuracies and misrepresentations, but closely mirrored the conspiracy theories driven by his allies in conservative media that are designed to rough up Mueller and tarnish the credibility of his investigation to politicize any eventual allegations of wrongdoing he makes against Trump or members of his team.
It was not immediately clear what the President meant when he claimed there were conflicts of interests involving Mueller. The New York Times reported in January that the President claimed a dispute over membership fees had prompted Mueller to leave a Trump golf club in Washington in 2011 when he was FBI Director. A joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House could provide reporters with an opportunity to question Trump about the accusation Monday afternoon.
Ethics experts from the Justice Department determined last year when Mueller was appointed special counsel that his participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate.
Trump targets the press
Trump's attacks on Mueller followed yet another extraordinary assault on the media by the President after he broke details of a private meeting he had with A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times on July 20.
"When the media - driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome - reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!" Trump tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
Taken together with the Mueller offensive, the tweet represented an escalation of Trump's strategy to discredit the integrity and moral standing of any institution that will ultimately help to shape a national consensus on his conduct.
Who has more credibility?
There has been no publicly available evidence that Trump or his subordinates knowingly conspired with a Russian effort to help him win power in 2016. But Trump's constant attacks on Mueller will inevitably renew speculation about Mueller's position and whether the President will attempt to fire him. Such a move could trigger a crisis of governance in Washington and test whether Republicans, who have largely been unwilling to challenge Trump in the Russia election interference drama and will hold the President to account.
Trump's allies also sought to shred the credibility of Cohen, after the President's former confidant turned against him, and following the airing last week of a tape obtained by CNN on which the two men discussed how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model's story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years before he turned to politics.
In an interview on Fox News Saturday evening, the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Trump's legal team was investigating the tape of Trump and Cohen and suggested it might have been doctored.
On Sunday, on CBS "Face the Nation," Giuliani said, "I don't see how you can believe Michael Cohen," and accused Cohen of violating Trump's attorney-client privilege.
Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis issued a statement calling Giuliani "confused."
"Mr. Giuliani seems to be confused. He expressly waived attorney client privilege last week and repeatedly and inaccurately -- as proven by the tape -- talked and talked about the recording, forfeiting all confidentiality," Davis said.
The cresting intrigue about Mueller, Cohen and the President's increasingly tetchy mood robbed the White House of a clean victory lap, following the positive economic data released Friday.
The 4.1% GDP growth rate figure will form the centerpiece of Trump's midterm election argument to voters that he has unleashed a new age of American prosperity that Republicans hope will prove more important to their choice than the ominous developments in the Russia probe and the uproar perpetually whipped up by the President's convention-shattering style.
"Policies matter a lot ... and I think the President deserves a victory lap," the President's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."
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