FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok points down the hallway as he arrives for a House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform joint hearing, Thursday, July 12, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Now that the Mueller report has been made available for the world to read — and declared the Trump campaign free from collusion with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election — many are wondering what happens now, particularly those who question what proof Hillary cronies and Obama administration officials had to open the investigation in the first place.
Those questions have operated at a low murmur thus far. But careful observers see the potential for an investigation into just what led intelligence officials to “spy” on the Trump campaign, not least because Trump’s own tweets and Attorney General Barr’s speculation at a Senate hearing have kept the chatter alive.
On Friday, Trump tweeted this about the Mueller investigation and subsequent report:
….big, fat, waste of time, energy and money – $30,000,000 to be exact. It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason. This should never happen again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 19, 2019
And Barr, at that same Senate hearing mentioned above, noted he was “looking into” what could amount to “improper surveillance” of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration counterintelligence apparatus, bolstered by questionable evidence supplied by associates of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Elaina Plott, White House correspondent for The Atlantic, thinks this could all be leading up to yet another investigation, this one seeking an answer to why the campaign was targeted for collusion. And, says Plott, the hum is bipartisan.
Republicans and Democrats alike have latched on to Mueller’s findings not as the final word on those topics, but instead as a springboard for ever more questions about them. This has been most obviously true of Democrats, some of whom maintain there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and some who argue that the president should be impeached on grounds of obstruction of justice. But as much as Republicans have crowed that it is time for lawmakers to move on and “get back to the business of governing,”many of them are itching for their own extension of the Mueller report: an investigation of the investigators.
Plott, who interviewed several republicans for her piece, suggests that they not only want answers to why, but they also see a way to help the president politically leading up to the 2020 election by revealing some of the personal animus of those on the left and to shine a light on the character of Trump’s enemies.
But Giuliani also suggested an alternative motivation that’s gaining a foothold in Republican circles: that an investigation would keep Mueller’s findings alive in a way that’s helpful to the president. When I asked him what investigating the investigators would ideally accomplish, he said, “Getting Jerry Nadler to be a household presence,” referring to the House Judiciary Committee chairman, who is leading one of the congressional inquiries into the president. Giuliani then added, sarcastically, “The more people see Jerry, the more they will love him. He’s so objective.”
Indeed, the more Republicans I spoke to for this story, the more obvious it became that their party’s pleas for Democrats to put Mueller behind them may be little more than lip service. One Trump-campaign adviser said that they are more than happy for Democrats to hold firm and continue broadcasting their opinions about collusion and obstruction.
“I don’t know that everyone and their mother knows who Robert Mueller is,” one White House official told Plott. “But if you told a Trump supporter that Democrats had used phony information to launch an investigation into their guy, it would absolutely fire them up.”
Interestingly, the very progressive Media Matters has complied a handy list of conservatives and members of the GOP — which includes mention of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) call for an investigation — who have mentioned publicly they’d like to know how and why the Russia probe was started. And the list is long. Here are just a few (any characterization of the worth of the opinions of the pundits in this list is Media Matters’, not mine):
- The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “How did this begin? How did this use of surveillance tools against the party out of power get started? And that’s really what we haven’t learned. … Now I think we’ll learn more about how the government came to spy on a political opposition.”
- Fox Business host Stuart Varney: “I would simply like to know what did President Obama know about an ongoing spying operation into a competitor’s political presidential campaign? … Will we find out what Hillary was doing?”
- Fox contributor John Sununu: “When Lindsey Graham starts his investigation on the Clinton side of the issue, [Democrats] will have a difficult time with dealing that. And the more and more they get into the weeds, the more and more the American public is going to understand how political they are rather than trying to get legislation passed.”
- Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on The Story: “I actually believe you cannot allow the people from the internal, high levels of the FBI to get away with what they did here. … There’s a lot of information, a lot of questions that still needs to be answered because this should never be allowed to happen to any other president again.”
- Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier: Baier falsely gave credence to the idea that investigators need to be investigated, saying, “We don’t yet know about the origins of the investigation, the [inspector general] may shed some light on this, as other investigations in the early stages.”
- Fox contributor Katherine Timpf on Outnumbered: “We already have evidence that there were some people who were involved in this investigation who were politically motivated. They wanted to get the president. That’s not something we wondering about, it’s something we know. So knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to know more?”
While Barr has been cagey about what he plans to do next, and has shown no indication he bows easily to public outcry, the pressure from conservatives to know exactly what happened in the summer of 2016 is mounting. The nation was promised a bad guy in the Russia probe. Perhaps we’ll ultimately get one.