President Fumes Over Russia Probe

  • President Donald Trump gestures as he walks as he leaves the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Washington, for a trip to his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Washington Post
Sunday, February 18, 2018

West Palm Beach, Fla. — President Donald Trump lashed out with fresh anger about the intensifying Russia probe over the weekend, accusing Democrats of enabling a foreign adversary to interfere in the 2016 election and attacking the FBI as well as his own national security adviser.

In a defiant and error-laden tweetstorm that was remarkable even by his own combative standards, Trump stewed aloud about the latest indictments brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against Russians for their elaborate campaign to denigrate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and push voters toward Trump.

The president seized on Mueller’s evidence of the expansive scope of the Russian influence efforts to claim that the indictments exonerate him and prove there was “no collusion.” But the special counsel’s investigation of possible complicity between Russia and the Trump campaign is continuing, as is the examination of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice.

In a string of 10 Twitter messages — which began after 11 p.m. on Saturday and ended around noon on Sunday, and which included profanity and misspellings — Trump opened a window into his state of mind, even as Trump’s representatives at a global security conference in Germany advised jittery allies to generally ignore the president’s tweets.

Trump’s latest attacks built on remarks last week in which he misrepresented the evidence revealed by Mueller. He tweeted falsely, “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election.” He blamed the Obama administration for doing “nothing” to stop the intrusion. He rebuked national security adviser H.R. McMaster for publicly acknowledging that the evidence of Russian interference was “incontrovertible.”

And he held the FBI responsible for last week’s devastating shooting at a Parkland, Fla., school that left 17 dead. Trump tweeted that the bureau was committing so many resources to the Russia probe that it missed “all of the many signals” about the shooter.

One topic Trump avoided in his missives was punishment for Russia. The president did not spell out how his administration might seek to retaliate against the Russians or how it may try to protect the U.S. electoral system from continued attacks, which the nation’s intelligence chiefs warned last week should be expected.

“What is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians? He never talks about that. It’s all about himself,” James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence during the 2016 election, said on CNN.

In fact, Trump blamed the various domestic investigations into Russia’s intrusions — as opposed to the interference itself — for sowing discord in America.

Trump tweeted on Sunday, “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of 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!”

Trump sent his messages from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., where he was ensconced for two straight days. He spent much of the time watching cable news, venting to friends about the Russia investigation and complaining that it has been driving so much press coverage. The president also surveyed Mar-a-Lago Club members about whether he ought to champion gun control measures in the wake of last week’s school massacre in nearby Parkland, telling them that he was closely monitoring the media appearances by some of the surviving students, according to people who spoke with him there.

Trump’s weekend rant comes at a precarious time for the president, who is grappling with a number of scandals, both professional and personal.

The White House is under siege for its handling of domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter, which in turn has drawn unwelcome attention to its security clearance process and the tenuous status of senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Two of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries — David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs and Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency — are under scrutiny for taxpayer reimbursement for luxury travel.

Meanwhile, salacious new accounts of Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs have created headlines. The New Yorker on Friday detailed a former Playboy centerfold’s claim of a relationship with Trump and reported that the publisher of the National Enquirer had paid the model $150,000 to buy the rights to her story. Also last week, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, said that shortly before the 2016 election he had used his personal funds to “facilitate” a $130,000 payment to a porn star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels and had alleged a relationship with Trump.

Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist based in Florida and a Trump critic, said the president’s tweets sent from Mar-a-Lago read to him like “a cry for help.”

“He must be feeling a lot of different pressures building on him right now — personal and political and legal,” Wilson said. “He must feel like he has to sweep all the pieces off the chess board and try to restart. But these problems can’t be papered over by tweets.”

After visiting victims and first responders at an area hospital on Friday evening, Trump did not leave Mar-a-Lago on Saturday or Sunday, skipping his usual rounds of golf at his nearby course in what aides described as a decision to show respect for the 17 people killed in Parkland.

Instead, Trump spent his time watching television, talking with friends and tweeting, aides said, breaking up that routine on Sunday for a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. On Saturday night, Trump dined with talk-show host Geraldo Rivera, as well as the president’s two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. First lady Melania Trump, also in Florida for the weekend, did not join her husband in the dining room, according to two attendees.

The president then retired to his private quarters and sent two controversial tweets before midnight.

The first blamed the FBI for the shooting. He tweeted after 11 p.m. on Saturday, “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 the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

Trump’s tweet seemed to echo the opening statement delivered at 9 p.m. on Fox News Channel by Jeanine Pirro, whose show the president watches regularly. She said the killings in Florida were “at the hands of the FBI” and “could have been prevented had they bothered to lift a finger.” Pirro went on to describe the bureau as “stained and politicized by Mr. Holier Than Thou Jim Comey, but the seeds were sowed by former FBI director Bob Mueller.”

The FBI has acknowledged that it had failed to properly investigate a January tip about Nikolas Cruz, the young man charged in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But officials said the resources devoted to the independently-run Russia investigation would have had no effect on the FBI’s response in Florida.

Trump’s comment linking the school massacre with the Russia probe drew a wave of criticism, including from some of the teenagers who survived the shooting. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R, said on CNN Sunday that it was “an absurd statement.” Sally Yates, the acting attorney general whom Trump fired last year after she raised concerns about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, tweeted that it was “shameful.” And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, a Trump ally, said on ABC News, “The president should be staying out of law enforcement business.”

Trump sparked more controversy with his reaction to McMaster’s speech at the Munich security conference, where the national security adviser said evidence of Russian interference was now “incontrovertible.”

The president tweeted, “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

Trump was referring to a series of accusations against Clinton, whom he calls “Crooked H,” and a set of memorandums compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele that includes information and claims about Trump’s dealings in Russia.

A senior administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal debates, said Trump was frustrated by McMaster’s speech because he thinks conceding that the Russians interfered takes away from the validity of his win. This official said Trump is uninterested in evaluating the merits of the Russia case — and speculated that even if he was convinced that they did interfere, he would be loathe to state so publicly.