President Donald Trump called the probe into his campaign’s Russia links an attempted “coup” Wednesday, while his attorney general promised to investigate FBI “spying” on the president.
More than two weeks after the Mueller probe wrapped up, apparently putting him in the clear, Trump is far from resting easy.
Raising the rhetorical temperature still further, he branded the investigation “an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president.”
“What they did was treason, what they did was terrible, what they did was against our constitution,” he said at the White House, demanding retribution.
The blistering comments will feed a widespread conspiracy theory on the right that the Russia probe was a fiction cooked up by Democrats and a so-called “deep state” seeking to overturn Trump’s shock 2016 election win.
Attorney General William Barr testified in Congress that he will open an inquiry into “spying” against Trump by the FBI at the origins of the probe led by independent prosecutor Robert Mueller.
“Spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I think spying did occur. The question is, was it was adequately predicated? I’m not saying it wasn’t,” he said.
Opposition Democrats reacted with anger to Barr’s comments.
“AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General.”
Adam Schiff, chairman of House Intelligence Committee, added: “The casual suggestion by the nation’s top law enforcement officer of ‘spying’ may please Donald Trump, who rails against a ‘deep state coup,’ but it strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Trump on the offensive
The Mueller probe grew out of fears that state-sponsored Russian meddling in the 2016 election extended to collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin operatives.
The full report — minus parts deemed unpublishable for security or legal reasons — should be released “next week,” Barr told Congress on Wednesday.
For now, all there is to go on is a short March 24 summary issued by Barr.
This said that the report determined there had been no collusion, even if there was considerable evidence of general Russian meddling.
On the face of it, that conclusion was a stunning victory for Trump, who all along denounced the investigation as a worthless “witch hunt.”
Despite the apparent vindication, however, he remained on the defensive, casting himself repeatedly as victim of a politically motivated abuse of power.
With his latest blistering comments, he appears to be switching to offense against what he tweeted Wednesday was “this Phony & Treasonous Hoax!”
Trump repeated Wednesday that he has nothing to fear.
“I have not seen the Mueller report, I have not read the Mueller report,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned I don’t care about the Mueller report. I’ve been totally exonerated.”
In fact, the few details known so far about the results of Mueller’s huge investigation do not necessarily amount to total exoneration.
Barr’s summary quotes Mueller as saying that while there was no evidence of collusion he could not reach a definite ruling on whether Trump tried to obstruct justice — itself a serious crime.
Barr said that in his judgment there was no obstruction, prompting Trump to declare himself free of all suspicion.
However, the details of Mueller’s report will likely still give Trump’s Democratic opponents ammunition in their battle to paint the president as tainted, even if not legally guilty.
Facing this danger, Trump is pushing to change the narrative to his demand that the investigators be investigated.
“There is a hunger for that to happen in this country like I have never seen before,” he said.
Barr backed him up in Congress, saying “I have an obligation to make sure that government power is not abused.”
Senator Mark Warner, a senior Democrat, accused Barr of feeding a “long-debunked ‘spying’ conspiracy theory.”
“Mr Barr knows how counter-intel investigators work. He knows there was ample evidence of Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and that the FBI took lawful action to stop it,” he said.