An expected indictment Monday from the special counsel probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election leaves President Donald Trump facing a politically perilous week as his White House juggles unveiling significant tax legislation, announcing its pick for Federal Reserve chair and launching a 12-day-long foreign trip.
Administration allies scrambled over the weekend to downplay the significance of the expected revelation of the first charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which CNN first reported were approved by a federal grand jury Friday. Trump, however, seemed to be struggling to stay focused on what was already shaping up to be a momentous week on the policy front, tweeting his frustration repeatedly on Sunday.
While the target and nature of the charges remain unknown, the expected indictment — from a special counsel appointed after Trump abruptly fired his FBI director out of frustration with the Russia probe — could make Monday one of the most politically consequential days of this presidency.
House Republicans still plan to release a draft of their tax bill this week, a senior White House official and a top GOP Capitol Hill aide told POLITICO, hoping to deliver on Trump’s top legislative priority — one that Republicans increasingly see as a must-pass in order to avoid 2018 midterm losses.
After calls with House Republican leadership over the weekend, the roll-out strategy remained as it did before the indictment news broke, the White House official said. “I don’t think it’s helpful, but how detrimental I don’t know,” the official said of the indictment. “People are looking to do tax reform for their own reasons, they’re not doing it to help the administration.”
Trump also leaves for a 12-day trip to Asia on Friday as tensions with North Korea escalate, and he has promised to reveal his choice to lead the Federal Reserve before he goes. The White House has viewed that nominee as one of the major decisions of his presidency, and Trump has sought to stoke the drama around the pick.
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said the White House could keep its policy aims front and center this week.
“We know what America cares about,” she told POLITICO on Sunday. “We know there is a complete disconnect between what Americans are told matters to them and what they tell us matters to them.”
But Russia appeared to be top of mind for the president himself on Sunday. Trump took to Twitter to lash out against the investigation.
“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier,” Trump wrote, referencing Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign’s role in funding research that led to an explosive set of unverified allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Trump dismissed the Russia investigation once again as a “Witch Hunt” and called on Republicans to “DO SOMETHING!” He posited that his tax cut push might be the reason the indictment news came out when it did.
“All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!” Trump wrote.
Other Republicans seemed more concerned that information about the Mueller investigation had leaked than that an indictment was looming.
“It is kind of ironic that the people in charge of investigating the law and executing the law would violate the law,” House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” though it was not clear where the leaks originated.
“Make no mistake, disclosing grand jury material is a violation of the law,” Gowdy said. “So, as a former prosecutor, I’m disappointed that you and I are having the conversation because somebody violated their oath of secrecy.”
Trump said recently he wasn’t considering firing Mueller. Gowdy said Sunday he was not advocating for the investigation to be shut down. But, he said, that position left him in “an increasingly small group of Republicans.”
Victoria Guida contributed reporting.
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