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Trump team, unburdened by Mueller probe, now turn to critics

Updated March 25, 2019 - 6:32 pm

WASHINGTON— The Trump White House and Republican allies moved from claiming vindication after they learned Sunday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no collusion between Russian actors and the Trump 2016 campaign to calling out critics who they say should be held accountable for a high-stakes investigation they contend should not have happened.

President Donald Trump voiced general complaints about the length and pace of the $25 million investigation, but left the naming of names to his aides.

The Trump campaign also sent out a memo to TV news networks that named six high-profile Trump critics who made “outlandish, false claims” about Trump campaign collusion with Russians during the 22-month probe. Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh suggested producers re-think booking Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and former CIA Director John Brennan.

If they do book these critics, Murtaugh suggested, networks should air their false comments and “challenge them to provide evidence.”

“The only person who has been caught lying about Russia is Donald Trump,” countered Swalwell. “If he thinks I’ve made a false statement, he can sue me. And I’ll beat him in court.”

“The last I checked,” former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told the Review-Journal, you can be a former intelligence official and “you’re allowed to have an opinion.”

“I would caution people on the Trump side not to get carried away with irrational exuberance,” Harlow added.

On Monday morning, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway took on Schiff singularly when she told Fox News that the California congressman “ought to resign today” in light of his assertions that he had seen “evidence of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Schiff has contended that a June 2016 meeting between a Russian attorney and top members of the Trump campaign at the Trump Tower showed “clear evidence of an attempt to collude.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy later told Politico that he thought Schiff should resign from his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.

Using the hashtag #FullOfSchiff, Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that it might be embarrassing to have spent “the last two years as the leader of the tinfoil hat brigade and have it all come crashing down so quick. I’m legitimately concerned for his mental state.”

Perhaps the strongest denunciation came from press secretary Sarah Sanders, who faulted “Democrats and the liberal media” for “trying to take down the president” and delegitimize his 2016 victory at the ballot box with “breathless reporting.”

“If Congress is gung-ho to call people up to the Hill,” the list I would start with are (former FBI Chief Jim) Comey, (former Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper, (former CIA chief John) Brennan, and other people in the FBI who perpetuated this absurd lie and this absurd idea that the president of the United States was somehow a foreign agent and colluding with another government.”

Trump frequently has tweeted that FBI officials who opposed him were willing to use the probe as an “insurance policy” against a Trump presidency, as FBI agent Peter Strzok texted to his then-lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

While Democrats demanded a release of the full Mueller report, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham held a press conference at which he called for a special counsel to look into whether a dossier, funded by Democratic donations, was the genesis of the FBI probe into Russian malfeasance.

Graham also derided a double standard that, for example, led journalists to downplay the role of the Democrats’ dossier.

GOP strategist and CNN contributor Alice Stewart agreed with Graham on media bias. “They had their hopes on something so damning and it just wasn’t there,” Stewart said of news reporters.

“The Democrats have to recognize that the investigation is complete. There was no wrongdoing found,” Stewart observed. “And move on.”

She also cautioned Republicans, “As much as the American people were not concerned about the Mueller probe, they’re certainly not going to be concerned about the origin of the Mueller probe.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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