Dean Obeidallah: As the probe into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia heats up, his team wants to deflect attention
Attacks on Clinton indicate the lengths Team Trump is willing to go to protect their boss
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
This week we saw Donald Trump, Fox News and even GOP members of Congress, in a seemingly coordinated strategy, ratchet up allegations that Hillary Clinton had “colluded” with Russia.
So why did this all take place now? Well it appears likely we all learned the reason Friday night. That’s when CNN broke the story that, according to sources briefed on the matter, a federal grand jury had issued the first indictments arising out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible conspiring with Russia to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.
It’s reasonable to believe that Trump knew that this was coming. As CNN reported, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is Attorney General Jeff Sessions second in command, “would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury for approval.” While Sessions had recused himself from the Russian investigation, did Rosenstein inform his boss who in turn told Trump? Or did someone leak this info to Trump? It’s unclear, but common sense says the multi-pronged attack on Clinton wasn’t just happenstance.
For example, on Wednesday Trump told a gaggle of reporters outside the White House: “I think the uranium sale to Russia and the way that it was done, so underhanded with tremendous amounts of money being passed, I actually think that’s Watergate, modern-age.” Trump was referring to the 2010 sale of a uranium company to a Russian corporation that was approved in part by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump alleges that Clinton had improper motives for approving the deal, but he raised that exact argument during the campaign and it was labeled by nonpartisan fact checkers as “mostly false.” Add to that, Clinton was just one of 11 department heads who approved this deal along with head of the Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense.
Regardless of the facts, on Friday Trump was again trying to get the media to focus on this story with his tweet: “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!” (“HC” refers to Hillary Clinton)
Then there was Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, that was all in on the story. Its coverage featured people like former White House advisor Sebastian Gorka making inflammatory comments. In an apparent effort to attract more media coverage for the story, Gorka equated Clinton with Ethel Rosenberg, a woman executed after being convicted in 1953 of selling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.
You even had Trump’s close ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) helping to get media attention for this story. On Tuesday, he announced an investigation tied to the seven-year-old uranium deal. As a reminder, Nunes is so close with Trump he was pressured into recusing himself from leading the House Intelligence Committee investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible conspiracy with Russia after it was revealed Nunes may have inappropriately shared classified intelligence info with Trump. Nunes has denied these allegations.
In any event, the GOP has controlled the House of Representatives since 2011, so why didn’t the Republicans call for investigations into this uranium deal before now (Clearly, we saw with the numerous Benghazi hearings that the GOP had no hesitation investigating Clinton.) Well for the same reason Trump and his allies have all raised this issue at this time. In fact, just a few days before the 2016 election the author of “Clinton Cash” wrote, in an article for Breitbart, that it was “time for an independent federal investigation of this deal.”
On Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was the latest to join the campaign of mass distraction by bringing up the infamous Steele Dossier. Her tweet is stunning in that it completely flips the allegations directed against Trump: “The evidence Clinton campaign, DNC & Russia colluded to influence the election is indisputable.”
It seems like the goal with all of this is to not just muddy the waters. It’s truly to convince Americans that even if Trump conspired with the Russians so did Clinton. It sets up the perfect double standard argument for Team Trump: if Trump or his inner circle were prosecuted for improper dealings with Russia then what about Clinton? In fact, after news of the indictment broke, Trump cheerleader in chief Sean Hannity tweeted: “When will @HillaryClinton be indicted?”
Get our free weekly newsletter
But Hannity wasn’t done – he also claimed Mueller was biased and had been working with the media. Why? Well that is part of the campaign waged by some Trump supporters to delegitimize Mueller and in turn protect Trump from impeachment. You see, impeachment is a political – not a legal – remedy. It takes the GOP controlled House to call for hearings to consider articles of impeachment. But if Trump is seen by the GOP base as being the victim of a witch-hunt by a biased prosecutor, it’s less likely GOP House members will be on board for impeachment absent a true smoking gun.
We don’t even know who might be indicted by Mueller or the charges. But clearly Team Trump is not taking any chances. The question is will it work in the long run? One thing is certain: Team Trump won’t be going down without a vicious fight.