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Trump’s Russia Defense Strategy Is Proving Robert Mueller Right And He Doesn’t Even Realize It

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President Donald Trump is hoping to use the so-called “Nunes memo” to shift his public defense in the ongoing Russia collusion scandal.

Trump has long maintained his innocence, saying there was no collusion and calling suggestions of such “fake news” whenever he gets the chance. But evidence exists to the contrary — including a meeting with a Russian lawyer (with close ties to the Kremlin) that took place between his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign manager during his 2016 campaign for president.

He’s not doing too well defending himself against possible obstruction of justice charges either. Trump denies that as well, but in an interview with Lester Holt after he fired former FBI director James Comey, Trump implied he did so because of the agency’s continued Russia probe, which was getting closer to the administration.

It was also revealed this week that special counsel Robert Mueller landed a key interview with a former Trump administration lawyer, whose testimony will suggest that Communications Director Hope Hicks and the president tried to cover up Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians mentioned above.

If Trump’s legal defense is struggling, his defense with the public is doing worse. Trump’s approval ratings are dismal, and Americans do not trust him when it comes to the Russia investigation. Half of the country suspects he colluded with Moscow, and the same number believes he also obstructed justice in the course of the investigation, according to a poll released just last week.

So what’s a president to do? Have your allies in Congress concoct a memo, leave out key points within it, and release it to the public, hoping that doing so will exonerate you in the court of public opinion.

That’s exactly what Trump is doing with the Nunes memo, which the FBI says has accuracy issues. “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray (who was appointed by Trump, mind you).

But it’s clear Trump & Co. are going to use that memo for their own defense. Trump signaled as much in a pair of tweets Friday morning.

Trump makes the case that the whole FBI investigation began due to a controversial dossier created by Fusion GPS and its contractor Christopher Steele, a former British spy — and that the dossier was created by Democrats. The conspiracy theory created by Trump and his supporters suggests that anti-Trump elements in the FBI used the partisan-funded dossier to go after the president.

That is a “Hail Mary” strategy, however, for a few reasons.

First: the dossier wasn’t the catalyst for the FBI looking into Trump collusion. The Russia investigation started when it became evident that the Kremlin had attempted to infiltrate, on several fronts, our elections process. But the collusion aspects of that investigation began when a campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, bragged about information Russia had on Hillary Clinton at a bar in London with some Australian diplomats around the same time Trump secured the GOP nomination.

Australia shared its concerns with the U.S., which prompted a look at Trump and his campaign by the FBI. The Steele dossier, which was made public after the election, was secondary to Papadopoulos’s “loose lips.”

Second: the work by Fusion GPS, if we’re really splitting hairs here, wasn’t funded only by Democrats. It was first funded by a conservative news outlet to find dirt on Trump during the Republican primaries — Democrats merely picked up the bill when Trump became the GOP nominee.

And third: the shift in strategy is a huge gamble by the administration. Trump still maintains his innocence, but instead of putting focus on that, he’s charging that he should be let off on a technicality. Rather than saying he’s not guilty of any of the purported charges against him, he’s essentially saying that the start of the investigation was based on partisan precipices — which, again, it wasn’t — and alleging it’s a tained inquiry.

Using this reasoning as a line of defense will almost certainly fall flat when it comes to what the public thinks. Sure, Trump spreads seeds of doubt and charges of conspiracy among his base, but among the rational portion of Americans who are already skeptical of his presidency and his role in collusion, this new claim by his administration is just not going to cut it.

The only concern we should have is whether Congress buys the claim by Trump or not. If they do, and if they impede the investigation, they must also be held to account.


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