President Trump’s frustrations are reaching a new intensity as federal and congressional probes into alleged links with Russia burrow deeper into his inner circle.
On Monday morning, hours before Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, met with investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the president took to Twitter to deliver a barrage of criticism.
In quick succession, Trump took aim at the Democratic Party, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerTrump: Why aren’t ‘beleaguered AG,’ investigators looking at Hillary Clinton? Trump: Washington ‘actually much worse than anyone ever thought’ Schumer: Dems didn’t ‘tell people what we stood for’ in 2016 MORE (D-N.Y.), “Crooked” Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump slams Sessions for ‘weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes’ Parnes to author book about 2020 race The Memo: Trump frustrations grow as pressure rises MORE and Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffThe Memo: Trump frustrations grow as pressure rises Pressure on Trump grows as Kushner is questioned White House: Schiff has done 123 national TV interviews since Trump took office MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, whom called “sleazy.”
As if that were not enough, Trump raised eyebrows even among Republicans by calling his attorney general, Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump slams Sessions for ‘weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes’ The Memo: Trump frustrations grow as pressure rises Cruz denies he is being considered for attorney general MORE, “beleaguered.”
In all those instances, Trump was arguing that allegations about Russia and its potential connections his campaign are unfair.
But the most significant thing may be the timing of Trump’s fusillade. It came amid rising pressure on all sides.
Kushner will meet with more congressional investigators, this time from the House, on Tuesday. Trump’s eldest son, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-controlled Congress nears legislative triumph — on Russia The Memo: Trump frustrations grow as pressure rises Trump nominates two former lawmakers to administration positions MORE Jr., and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, have agreed to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee, though a date has not been set.
Media reports have also suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into President Trump’s past financial dealings — and is expected to get documentation from institutions such as Deutsche Bank, which conducted considerable business with the president during his years as a real estate mogul.
The president has argued repeatedly that the investigation into Russia is a “witch hunt” aimed at undercutting the legitimacy of his victory in last November’s presidential election.
Kushner sounded a similar theme during rare public remarks delivered outside the West Wing on Monday.
“I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts,” he said.
Kushner added: “Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.”
Still, Trump is not out of the woods yet.
Last week, he told The New York Times that any look into his finances would amount to a crossing of a red line by Mueller.
Washington has been rife with speculation that Trump could ultimately try to oust Mueller, though the White House denies he has any such plans. If he did so, many experts think a constitutional crisis would be inevitable.
Critics of Trump, inside and beyond the political world, assert that he has long been sensitive about any deep probe of his finances. As a candidate, they note, he famously refused to release his tax returns, defying established political norms.
Timothy O’Brien, the executive editor of Bloomberg View, faced a lawsuit from Trump over a biography he wrote more than 10 years ago. The future president took exception to O’Brien’s estimate of his net worth, which was much lower than Trump’s own assessment. The lawsuit was dismissed.
O’Brien told The Hill that Trump “cared a lot more about [estimates of his net worth] than I did. It was a soft spot for him even when there was a lot of other stuff in the book that might have concerned him.”
These days, O’Brien suggests Trump could be concerned about any probe of “unsavory connections” he may have had during his business career.
Trump has always pushed back against any such allegations, as well as any broader suggestion of Russia-related shadiness.
At a news conference at the White House back in February, he said: “Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia, haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years, don’t speak to people from Russia.”
As a political matter, Trump critics insist that his anger at Mueller — and at Sessions, who recused himself from Russia-related matters — is counterproductive.
“It certainly would not be something that anybody would recommend to him,” said Democratic strategist Robert Shrum. “As he does this more and more, he creates the impression more and more that there is probably something there.”
But others who take a more sympathetic view argue that Trump’s base of support is unmoved by the media speculation around Russia — and that his voters expect the president to show his trademark pugnacity.
Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor and a specialist in political communications, argued that even though Trump is an unorthodox political figure in so many ways, his pushback on social media and elsewhere “is the traditional playing to the base” common to most politicians.
“You look at the polling and it appears that his base is saying, ‘Hit ‘em back and hit ‘em back harder.’ ”
Even so, Berkovitz added, Trump’s apparent belief that offense is the best form of defense carries a steep cost.
“Is this any way to run a presidency? Is this any way to try to get any legislation passed? Or any way to deal with international relations? The answer is pretty self-evident. But Trump seems not just to ignore that — he revels in the blowback he gets for not playing ball in the way other politicians do.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.