“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
While there may be some debate over whether the President tweeting that Sessions should stop the investigation is different than him directly telling the attorney general to do so, we shouldn’t get too caught up in the semantics here.
What happened on Wednesday morning is this: The President of the United States asked the top law enforcement official in the country to end an investigation into a) Russia’s active-measures campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton and b) the possibility that a member (or members) of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to aid that end goal.
This is a bridge further than Trump has been willing to go in the past. Sure, he has run down Sessions relentlessly ever since the former Alabama senator decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. (Side note: Sessions’ recusal means that, technically, he can’t end the probe as Trump wants. That duty would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Trump has also maligned via social media.)
Trump’s lawyers immediately sought to walk the tweet back. Rudy Giuliani told CNN’s Dana Bash that Trump was “was expressing his opinion on his favorite medium, Twitter, for asserting his First Amendment rights” and said the tweet wasn’t a demand.
“We have been saying for months that it is time to bring this inquiry to an end,” Giuliani said in a statement to CNN. “The President has expressed the same opinion.”
But what he has never done before is specifically direct Sessions to end the investigation. Which is a big deal. And provokes a simple question: Why now?
“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”
Manafort, who served as Trump campaign chairman and de facto campaign manager from the spring until the late summer of 2016, is currently in the midst of a trial in which he faces numerous charges of financial improprieties related to his work for the pro-Russia Ukrainian government. The charges against Manafort stem directly from the Mueller probe and are regarded as the leading edge of the former FBI director’s investigation — which is expected to reach its conclusion sometime this fall.
Those developments come on top of the fact that five people have already pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes in relation to the Mueller probe, and two high-profile former Trump staffers — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates — are cooperating with Mueller. Cohen, who could well face criminal charges on unrelated matters in connection with an ongoing investigation by the Southern District of New York, is also seen as a potential cooperating witness.
In short: It’s getting a little hot in here for Trump.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Wednesday that Trump’s morning tweet was “not an order,” saying Trump was expressing his opinion. “The President is not obstructing, he’s fighting back.”
It’s hard to separate signal from noise when it comes to Trump’s reactions to the Mueller probe. But the tweet this morning is an escalation from what we’ve seen from this President before. And we should all be paying very close attention to what happens next.