Trump turns to Twitter to keep on digging
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Paul Connew takes a look at Donald Trump's deranged Twitter feed and finds defiant denial, factual error and self-absorbed self-defence.
If Special Counsel Robert Mueller needed insight into the troubled state of the President of the United States' mind, the tale of Donald Trump's demented tweets in response to his forensically-detailed 37-page indictment of 13 Russian nationals for attempting to pervert US democracy provided it in spades.
A Twitter stream from a POTUS who gave every impression of desperately seizing a social media spade and then digging himself into an even deeper hole in the Russian Connection investigation.
It was a surreal Twitter trail through defiant denial, factual error and self-absorbed self-defence.
He wrote: 'I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said 'it may be Russia, China or another country or group, or it may be a 400-pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer'. The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!'
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This from the POTUS who has described ad nauseam Russian interference in last year's presidential election as a 'hoax' and 'fake news' and the special counsel's investigation as a 'witch hunt'. A POTUS who has maintained that pretence in defiance of every single one of America's intelligence services.
Then the tweet that added: 'If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the US, then, with all the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!'
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Notable by its absence was any direct presidential expression of outrage against President Putin or the Russian nationals and the Kremlin-linked companies named in the indictment. The extraordinary detail in the indictments made The Americans, the award-winning drama series about Cold War Russian sleeper cells embedded in the US, look more like a documentary.
No sign, either, that Trump plans to implement the bipartisan tougher sanctions regime against Russia overwhelmingly voted for by both Houses of Congress last year which he signed under protest but now mysteriously refuses to implement.
Even among the more loyal Trump aides, there was an air of despair over his bizarre response. Among his small army of private lawyers, it hardened their view they should try to avoid exposing the president to the under-oath, face-to-face forensic questioning session being sought by Special Counsel Mueller.
Extraordinarily some sources suggest Trump unleashed his early morning self-destructive Twitter barrage out of frustration without talking to lawyers after spending hours watching TV news coverage of the Mueller indictments at his Mar-a-Lago estate, the so-called 'Sunshine White House'.
What had originally been planned as a Florida holiday weekend golf break had already been interrupted by the need to visit victims and first responders involved in the Parkland school shooting massacre in which 17 people died. The Donald's demeanour not helped by the news coverage showing the hostility of survivors to his opposition to gun control, record-level bankrolling by the NRA and – apparently – initial resentment when aides advised him that being seen playing golf would play badly when families were mourning their loved ones not so far away in the same state. So Trump hung up his clubs and ranted and tweeted and moped in front of the TV instead.
But those same aides had been horrified when Trump turned his Twitter ire on the FBI and crassly tried to conflate the school massacre with the special counsel's Russia investigation.
'Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!' tweeted Trump.
Attacking the FBI for missing a tip about school shooter Nikolas Cruz – a blunder the FBI swiftly and honourably admitted – while the first funerals of victims were taking place was in itself in dubious taste. But it was also a cynical, opportunist lie – the special counsel's Russian Connection investigation is ring-fenced and run and resourced separately out of the Justice Department and had zilch to do with the missed tip.
There is also increasing sensitivity in the Trump team that, although initial reports linking Cruz to membership of a far-right group called Republic of Florida were down to a social media hoax, the accused teenage gunman had expressed pro-Trump and white supremacist views, as well as a fascination with firearms.
With young Americans mobilising and marching in support of gun control, POTUS's hint this week of possible support for a bipartisan pact on tougher mental health checks on gun buyers signals White House concern over the scale of the post-Parkland massacre outcry.
How cruelly ironic it would be given that it was Trump who made great play soon after taking office of reversing President Obama's tougher gun check legislation. Could Trump be testing the water of how far the NRA, who heavily financed his election campaign, will allow him to go by way of modest compromise? Certainly some in the NRA have never totally trusted Trump, given the political chameleon's past pro-gun control views back in the days when he supported Bill Clinton and flirted with the Democrats.
So concerned were some senior Republican party figures by the thought that Trump's attempt to link the Florida shooting missed tip and the Russian Connection developments could be a prelude to the president firing FBI Director Christopher Wray that they sent word to Mar-a-Lago that they would not back Wray's dismissal – a similar position to Capitol Hill Democrats.
It came against the backdrop of rising tension between the president and the FBI chief. Wray has already publicly derided Trump's claim of FBI bias against him and further infuriated the president by contradicting (in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee) the White House version of when the FBI gave it a security report on Rob Porter, the top presidential aide forced to resign in a wife-beating scandal.
That has become hugely sensitive for Trump as Porter was the lover of his longest-serving aide and close personal confidant, Hope Hicks, the White House Director of Communications. Hicks, as this column has revealed, will shortly face questioning under oath by Mueller over her alleged role in co-writing with the president a fake statement about the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering alleged dirt on Hillary Clinton organised by Donald Trump junior and attended by son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
To add to the woes of the president and his legal team, no details have leaked about the two-day, 20-hour questioning under oath of Steve Bannon, The Donald's estranged former campaign mastermind and White House Strategy Chief. Except for one: Bannon, who told Fire and Fury book author Michael Wolff that the Trump Tower meeting was 'treasonous', is said to have answered candidly every single question put to him by Mueller.
Further alarm bells are ringing loudly with whispers that Trump's former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, who denies a string of charges including massive Russian-linked money-laundering and conspiracy against America, is negotiating a plea bargain deal in return for cooperating with the special counsel. It would bring the known total of senior Trump campaign figures turned by Mueller's team to three, with at least three others believed to be secretly negotiating through personal attorneys to do the same.
Legal experts believe the timing of the Mueller indictment against Russian nationals and entities – and the decision to do so through the Grand Jury system – was highly significant for several reasons. Although Russia is hardly likely to entertain extradition requests, it's effectively killed off Trump's threats of sacking the special counsel and scrapping his investigation.
Theoretically the president still retains the power to dismiss Mueller at the risk of triggering a constitutional crisis, but he doesn't have the authority to kill an ongoing Grand Jury case. It also serves to toss all Trump's desperate record of repeatedly rubbishing Russian meddling intended to boost his election campaign firmly in a bin labelled 'Fake News, Mr President'.
Even among pro-Trump elements on the GOP right wing on Capitol Hill, concern is mounting that a combination of presidential refusal to accept and combat Russia's sinister efforts to damage US democracy, and prima facie evidence of 'obstruction of justice' by the president and those close to him, could prove an electoral disaster in the November mid-term elections.
A fear exacerbated by Trump's ill-advised Twitter attack on his own national security adviser, General HR McMaster, after he told an international security conference that there is 'incontrovertible' evidence of Russian interference in last year's election campaign.
Some sources suggest that the only thing stopping the general from resigning is his resolve to be a 'block' on the president impulsively ordering an attack against North Korea that could ignite a devastating nuclear conflict in the region and beyond.
Meanwhile Capitol Hill is rife with rumours that the Special Counsel's next move will be to indict before a Grand Jury several key members of the president's inner circle – with Donald Trump Junior and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner high on the hit list.
For many on both sides of Capitol Hill, there was a ring of truth to a ferocious column by the New York Times' highly-respected Thomas Friedman. Under the headline, 'Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All Of Us Now', Friedman opined: 'Our democracy is in serious danger. President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool. But either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.
'Either Trump's real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin – so much so they literally own him; or rumours are true he engaged in sexual misbehaviour while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape; or Trump actually believes Vladimir Putin when he says he's innocent of intervening in our elections – over the explicit findings of our own CIA, NSA and FBI chiefs. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is inside the Oval Office.'
Inside the Kremlin, they may indeed may be 'laughing their asses off' about the state of American democracy today. Just not for the reason The Donald thinks.