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20 Oct 2020, Edition - 1925, Tuesday

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Russia inquiry: Trump sends barrage of angry tweets as charges reported


President focuses Twitter attacks on Clinton, demanding investigation

First charges filed in Robert Mueller Russia inquiry – reports

Amid reports that the first arrests in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election were imminent, Donald Trump sent an extraordinary fusillade of angry tweets about the special counsel’s attention to “phony Trump/Russia ‘collusion'” which, he insisted, “doesn’t exist”.

The president sought to focus attention instead on supposed scandals involving Hillary Clinton, demanding authorities “do something”. As he did so, his most bullish defender strove to cast doubt on the reach and integrity of Mueller.

“We have to have the public have confidence in the fact that the grand jury process is secret and, as a result, is fair,” the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, told ABC.

Christie and Trump aimed their bullhorns at Mueller while the rest of the political world braced for the first arrests stemming from the special counsel’s investigation. CNN, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have reported that Mueller’s team has filed its first charges under seal, with one or more arrests coming as soon as Monday.

Trump tweeted furiously – without referencing the sealed indictment outright.

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton,” the president wrote, floating as supposed Clinton scandals “the uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted emails, the Comey fix and so much more”.

“Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, ‘collusion’, which doesn’t exist. The [Democrats] are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the [Republicans] are now fighting back like never before.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

He concluded: “All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”

Appearing on multiple news shows on a difficult day for the White House, the pugnacious Christie raised the possibility Mueller’s team was engaged in criminal leaks to the media.

“It’s supposed to be kept secret,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “There are very strict criminal laws about disclosing grand jury information. Now, depending upon who disclosed this to CNN, it could be a crime.”

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Christie said he “hoped” the news was not traceable to Mueller’s team.

“As a [former] prosecutor,” he said, “I can tell you that was the thing that we emphasized the most with our prosecutors and our agents was, ‘Let me tell you something: we will prosecute you if we find that you leaked this stuff.'”

The identities of those charged by Mueller’s grand jury were still secret on Sunday morning. Christie and others suggested they might be “smaller fish”.

“You want to be pursuing people and pressuring people who have information of an incriminating nature above you in the food chain,” Preet Bharara, the former US attorney for the southern district of New York who was fired by Trump, said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Following Trump’s controversial pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an ardent supporter, political observers have wondered if the president will wield such powers to remove the pressure on those below him. Asked on CNN if Trump might be considering “pre-emptive pardons”, Christie said: “I’ve never seen the president talk about that.

“That’s a very important power to use and I haven’t heard the president say anything like that, and I think we shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Certainly, those people shouldn’t be sitting around saying, ‘Hey, no problem.'”

Arpaio, Christie noted, was not convicted of a crime related to Trump’s campaign or election.

Russian interference in the 2016 election has cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency. In January, multiple US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia hacked sensitive information and spread propaganda through social media in an effort to help Trump defeat Clinton.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia. His operation has also expanded to examine whether Trump officials attempted to stymie the investigation, or committed money laundering or tax evasion. Mueller was appointed as special counsel after Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI, a move he told NBC was made because of “this Russia thing”.

Some Republicans in Trump’s orbit, such the former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, have called for Mueller to step down. Many observers have suggested that firing Mueller, a possibility floated by Trump surrogates, would trigger congressional action against the president.

On ABC on Sunday, Christie stressed: “The last public word we have on any of this is that the president himself is not under investigation”.

But the investigation has been circling some of Trump’s closest confidants, such as his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Federal law enforcement officials searched Manafort’s Virginia home this summer, in a predawn raid.

Earlier this month, Mueller’s team also questioned Sean Spicer, Trump’s former spokesman, and Reince Priebus, his former chief of staff.

Bharara, who is now a CNN analyst, said Trump’s reaction to the reported indictments could signal whether he himself feels threatened.

The public should “see if the president of the United States is sending a message of intimidation in some way, through himself and his cohorts”, he said. Hints at potential pardons, Bharara said, could be an attempt to send “a message of reassurance”.

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