Aides to President Donald Trump are looking for ways to hamstring and delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to Thursday night reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.
The reports show that Trump is still fuming and obsessing over the Russia investigation, which continues to dominate headlines almost daily. The President fired James Comey as FBI director, partially out of unhappiness with the Russia probe, precipitating Mueller’s hiring as the special counsel. He’s also openly expressed his anger with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, signaling that Trump is unhappy with his lack of control over its progress.
It’s against that backdrop that his aides are looking for ways to derail and discredit Mueller’s investigation, possibly building an argument for firing the special counsel.
Trump’s aides have been looking into the backgrounds of Mueller’s team for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit Mueller or possibly to fire him, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the effort. They are looking at past campaign donations and clients, as well as at Mueller’s relationship with Comey, per the New York Times.
The President has also asked about his power to pardon his aides, his family, and himself, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the effort. Another source told the Post that Trump’s aides have been discussing pardons amongst themselves.
Trump was recently set off by reports that Mueller is looking into his past finances, and Trump was particularly “disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns,” the Washington Post reported.
Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s outside legal team, complained to the Washington Post about a Bloomberg News report that Mueller’s team is looking into some of Trump’s real estate deals.
“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”
The Thursday night reports follow a Wednesday interview with the New York Times during which Trump voiced concern about the possibility of Mueller’s team looking at his financial records. But Trump stopped short of telling the Times that such a move would prompt him to fire the special counsel.
Sekulow told the Washington Post that Trump wants to make sure Mueller is staying within the bounds of the Russia probe.
“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow told the Post. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”