WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s legal team has prepared a response to Robert Mueller’s probe that features the president’s favorite conspiracy-theory villains, from Peter Strzok and his lover to those who financed a dossier that Trump falsely claims sparked the investigation against him.
Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce and Nellie Ohr, Christopher Steele and Hillary Clinton’s campaign lawyers will all be covered in the report, which Trump boasted was “already 87 pages” in a tweet Friday morning.
When asked Friday whether the report would attack the various players involved in the investigation, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost: “You’re damned right we are. I can’t imagine how we wouldn’t.”
Strzok was an FBI agent and Page a Justice Department lawyer involved in the early phase of the special counsel’s investigation who wrote each other a number of text messages expressing alarm that someone they viewed as unqualified and unhinged could become president. Nellie Ohr works with the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was contracted first by Republicans and later by Democrats to explore Trump’s ties to Russia. Bruce Ohr is her husband, a Justice Department lawyer, and Steele is a former British intelligence agent who researched and wrote what Trump likes to call the “Dirty Dossier.”
Trump and his allies repeatedly claim, falsely, that the unverified intelligence tidbits contained in Steele’s report were the basis of the FBI investigation into Trump. But that probe began in the summer of 2016 based on tips from Western European intelligence agencies reporting that Russian operatives appeared to be in contact with Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump and Giuliani’s approach, which tries to discredit the people and the process behind the investigation rather than its findings, has been fodder for the Fox News shows that Trump watches religiously and for House intelligence committee Republicans since the investigation became public a year and a half ago.
Giuliani defended that tactic, saying that the facts of how the investigation proceeded were a legitimate target of criticism because they became the basis for what he called an inappropriate surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. “I could write a whole book,” he said.
Trump and his team have repeatedly and falsely claimed that the Page warrant was based primarily on the Steele dossier and that it became the foundation on which the Russia probe was built.
Giuliani added that Trump was correct that the rebuttal report runs about 87 pages, but that some sections of it may be left out of what his legal team releases, depending on the contents of Mueller’s eventual report.
Giuliani said that apart from the facts he alleges tainted the investigation from the start, he also makes legal arguments against the anticipated allegations against Trump. On the matter of obstruction of justice, for instance, where Mueller is examining Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey four months after taking office, Giuliani said Trump had every right to fire Comey.
“As a matter of law, there can’t be obstruction in this case,” he said.
In obstruction, you don’t have ‘please.’ It’s usually: ‘I’ll break your legs.’ Rudy Giuliani, on Trump's request that James Comey ease up on Michael Flynn
Comey has said that Trump fired him after requesting that Comey ease up on Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who lied to investigators about his contacts with Russian officials during the transition.
Giuliani said Trump used the word “please” when asking Comey. “In obstruction, you don’t have ‘please.’ It’s usually: ‘I’ll break your legs,’” Giuliani said, pointing out that Comey refused to go easy on Flynn. “It’s sure as hell not very effective obstruction.”
Flynn a year ago pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. A court filing by Mueller earlier this week recommended that the retired three-star Army general get no jail time because of his extensive cooperation with prosecutors that included 19 separate interviews.
Whether Mueller winds up filing a final report with the Department of Justice or just spells out his findings in various court filings remains unclear. Thus far, he has included far more details about his findings in indictments and sentencing memoranda than have been legally necessary.
Mueller and other prosecutors filed new memos Friday regarding coming sentencings for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. A jury has convicted Manafort of bank fraud and related charges, and he pleaded guilty in September to fraud and obstruction of justice. Cohen pleaded guilty earlier this year to making illegal payments on the eve of the 2016 election to buy the silence of a porn actress and a Playboy model who say they had affairs with Trump, and late last month to a charge of lying to investigators regarding a construction project Trump sought in Moscow while he ran for president.
Trump openly praised Russia’s authoritarian ruler throughout his campaign, while Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies actively worked to elect Trump by stealing emails from Democrats and releasing them through an ally, WikiLeaks. Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks and pointed to the stolen emails as proof that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was corrupt.
After Trump fired Comey in May 2017, he told Russian diplomats visiting the Oval Office and then NBC News that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Mueller, who had served as FBI director under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was appointed special counsel to continue the probe after Comey’s firing.