Of Course Trump Should Defend Himself

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Sunday suggested President Trump should not publicly criticize Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his 2016 campaign. “When you are innocent,” he said, “if the allegation is collusion with the Russians and there is no evidence of that, and you’re innocent of that, act like it.”

Gowdy was responding to “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace’s question about whether Trump’s lawyer should be demanding the end of Mueller’s probe, and if Trump’s tweets related to the investigation were appropriate.

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who is not running for reelection, strongly defended the Mueller investigation, even though the House Intelligence Committee, of which he is a member, just concluded there was no collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign in 2016.

“If you believe, as we found, there is no evidence of collusion, you should want Special Counsel Mueller to take all the time and have all the independence he needs to do his job,” Gowdy said. “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”

Let’s unpack this. According to Gowdy’s logic, the duly elected president should remain silent in the face of an investigation led by an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat who has yet to find any evidence of wrongdoing by the president or his campaign . . . because he’s innocent? Even though Gowdy’s own committee failed to find evidence that the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin were in cahoots before the November 2016 election, Trump should zip it and his lawyer shouldn’t protect the best interest of his client by calling for an end to a compromised and politically biased investigation?

And in the court of public opinion—which now seems to matter more than fact or evidence—a man whose family members and closest aides have been interrogated for a crime that did not happen should continue to let one side dominate that public trial? The New York Times can publish 3,286 articles about the Trump-Russia election hoax, but Trump can’t fire off a few tweets to defend himself?

Remind me not to hire Gowdy as an attorney.

Now, perhaps in the course of a routine investigation in a normal political environment, Gowdy’s advice would be sound. But that is nowhere close to where we are in the Trump-Russia collusion scandal. Just 48 hours before Gowdy’s interview, we learned that Peter Strzok—a top FBI investigator tied both to the Clinton email and the Russian election interference cases—expressed an interest in meeting with Rudolph Contreras, a friend who had been appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court three months before it issued a warrant to spy on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. According to The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway:

The text messages that show [FBI lawyer Lisa] Page and Strzok conspiring to meet with Contreras were originally hidden from Congress. In records provided by DOJ to Congress, the exchanges referencing Contreras, and plans to meet with him under the guise of a cocktail party, were completely redacted by federal law enforcement officials. The exchanges obtained by The Federalist include information that was never turned over to Congress.

Why was this information hidden from Congress? Because Strzok, who was removed from the Mueller team after they discovered his affair with Page, participated in the January 24, 2017 interview of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor who pleaded guilty to one charge of lying to the FBI. The judge who signed off on that plea agreement? Rudy Contreras.

Days later, Contreras was recused from the case without explanation. The new judge has since delayed Flynn’s sentencing amid his request for Mueller’s team to produce exculpatory evidence “in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.”

“Act” innocent as evidence of a corrupted investigation continues to surface? Um, no.

Mueller’s conduct is generating plenty of criticism from people other than the president and his lawyers. In a lengthy takedown of Mueller’s February 22 indictments against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates (again, on charges unrelated to Russian collusion), Andrew McCarthy blasts Mueller’s tactics and plea deals. Despite Gates being charged with serious felonies that would warrant millions in fines and years in prison, Mueller accepted a deal the very next day that allowed Gates to plead guilty to two minor charges, including “conspiracy against the United States.” McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor like Gowdy, has a far less rosy assessment:

Mueller’s pleading shenanigans are an affront to the Constitution’s separation of powers. To begin with, he undermines Congress’s clear intent to punish grave conspiracy offenses with severe penalties. He does this by making promiscuous use of the comparatively minor conspiracy offense set forth in Section 371 of the penal code. If Gates is the mega-criminal nine-digit fraudster the special counsel has portrayed, he is not supposed to get a slap on the wrist.”

Lee Smith at Tablet magazine also has some stinging words about the special counsel. Smith doesn’t pull any punches in explaining the real reason for the Mueller probe: “The purpose of the Mueller inquiry is . . . not to investigate the mostly ludicrous-seeming charges in the Steele dossier, but to protect the institution of the FBI, former colleagues, as well as the national security surveillance system. Therefore the inquiry has to cover up the sinful origins of the collusion narrative itself—which was born in repeated abuses of power and subsequent crimes committed by U.S. officials in the intelligence bureaucracy and the Obama administration.”

Smith’s view is shared not only by the president but also by millions of Americans who have legitimate doubts about the veracity of the investigation. Americans are equally split on the question of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, and only 38 percent believe the investigation has been handled fairly. Mueller has a favorable-unfavorable rating of 32 percent to 30 percent. (A plurality of respondents have never heard of him or have no opinion.)

Gowdy’s blind faith, blank check, and open timetable for Mueller’s inquiry are unjustified given the misconduct by key players that has been uncovered since the probe originated, and how it is proceeding. Gowdy and other like-minded Republicans should spend less time offering suggestions to the president and more time overseeing a freewheeling investigation for which they and their incuriosity are ultimately responsible. Trump isn’t the only one whose patience is wearing thin.

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