President Trump fired back on Monday in an attempt to distance his White House from the grand jury indictments of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an aide, noting their crimes were committed “years” before they worked on the campaign.
The president led a chorus of critics of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, noting that the crimes for which Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, are charged appear to predate the presidential campaign by years.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Trump tweeted Monday. “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
Manafort and Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury Friday on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading Foreign Agent Registration (FARA) statements, false statements and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign banks and financial accounts. The indictments were announced Monday.
Mueller’s team also unsealed a guilty plea by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted to making false statements to FBI agents as part of the investigation. According to court documents, Papadopoulos’ false statements were in regards to his relationship with a Russian ‘professor,’ who had ties to Russian government officials.
The special counsel probe and Russia “hoax,” as the president has described it, has cast a cloud over the Trump administration. But last week, the White House enjoyed a shift in focus, amid new revelations in the controversial Obama-era Uranium One deal and the payments behind the salacious anti-Trump dossier.
Reports last week revealed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid more than $9 million to law firm Perkins Coie, which commissioned Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research that ultimately led to the now-infamous dossier.
Over the weekend, it was revealed that the conservative Washington Free Beacon website initially funded the opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump and other GOP contenders for the White House. Lawyers for the Free Beacon told the House Intelligence Committee that the website funded the research between fall 2015 and spring 2016.
But some Republicans say that the Manafort-Gates indictments provide “no evidence” in the Russian collusion narrative.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who has repeatedly called for Mueller’s resignation, over the special counsel’s relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, said the indictment “doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump.”
“I believe that Mr. Mueller’s conflict of interest is absolutely incontrovertible, and I think this is further indication he’s headed in this direction no matter what,” Franks said on his local radio station, KTAR-FM Morning News, Monday. “It’s ironic because ostensibly his investigation is supposed to be into Donald Trump’s potential involvement with Russia, yet this doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump.”
Franks added: “They may try to parlay it into something to hook President Trump in, but right now, this is par for the course. I should suggest this was kind of predictable.”
Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading its own Russia probe, echoed a similar sentiment.
“This pre-dates the campaign entirely, and could pre-date Paul Manafort even meeting Donald Trump. This has nothing to do with the campaign,” King told Fox News on “America’s Newsroom” Monday. “The investigation still has to go forward but what I’ve seen so far, is there is no evidence at all linking the Trump campaign to Russian influence or collusion.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also leading a bipartisan Russia probe, and said that the indictment "doesn't change" their investigation.
"The special counsel has found a reason on criminal violations to indict two individuals and I will leave that up to the special counsel to make that determination. It doesn't change anything with our investigation," Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. said in a statement to Fox News. "We received documents from and had interest in two of the individuals named, but clearly the criminal charges put them in the Special Counsel's purview."
But Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that the indictments are “significant” and a “sobering step” in the special counsel’s investigation.
“That’s why it is imperative that Congress take action now to protect the independence of the Special Counsel, wherever, or however high his investigation may lead,” Warner said in a statement Monday. “Members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must also make clear to the President that issuing pardons to any of his associates or to himself would be unacceptable and result in immediate, bipartisan action by Congress.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also said that the president “must not, under any circumstances, interfere” with Mueller’s work.
“If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues,” Schumer said in a statement Monday.
While Trump has not suggested any plans to interfere with the special counsel investigation, there are currently two pieces of legislation in the Senate, with bipartisan sponsorship, that would ensure a judicial check on the executive branch’s ability to remove a special counsel. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., are behind the bills, along with Democratic senators.
"The president is not firing the special counsel," Trump's attorney, Jay Sekulow, said on CNN Monday.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also said Monday the president has "no intention or plan to make any changes in regard to Special Counsel."
Though some argue the indictments are irrelevant to the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, former top-ranking Justice Department official under both Bush and Obama administrations, James Trusty, told Fox News that this is what happens during a broad investigation.
Last week, Mueller expanded his probe to investigate Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta’s dealings with Manafort and a Ukrainian nonprofit. The Podesta Group told Fox News last week they were “cooperating” with the special counsel’s office.
Trusty said last week that Mueller has “a lot of room to legitimately poke around and find information on one party or another.”
“It’s a cliché, but a good cliché –prosecutors go where the evidence leads them,” Trusty told Fox News last week. “When you define the mission broadly, there is a lot of room for [an independent prosecutor’s] exploration.”
Trusty said that if a special counsel’s mission is defined broadly, “it is all fair game if the independent prosecutor is doing his job the right way.”