It’s been 362 days since Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
Since that day, President Trump has complained/kvetched/vented about the Mueller probe approximately 7,240 times.
That may be somewhat exaggerated but only somewhat so, according to a new piece in The Washington Post detailing a year in the Mueller probe. Here’s the key excerpt:
The President vents to associates about the FBI raids on his personal attorney Michael Cohen — as often as “20 times a day,” in the estimation of one confidant — and they frequently listen in silence, knowing little they say will soothe him. Trump gripes that he needs better “TV lawyers” to defend him on cable news and is impatient to halt the “witch hunt” that he says undermines his legitimacy as President.
First, “TV lawyers”!
But, more importantly – 20 times a day!
Obviously, this is the estimate of an aide. But, other indicators suggest the estimate isn’t all that far off. Since the beginning 2017, Trump has called the investigation into Russia meddling a “witch hunt” 42 times, according to the Trump Twitter Archive. There have been 28 mentions of “investigations” in his tweets over that time, the vast majority dealing with the Mueller probe. Trump has called it a “hoax” 13 times. He’s sent seven tweets mentioning Mueller by name since March 17 alone.
(Always remember: Trump’s Twitter feed is the best representation of what he really spends time thinking about/what he cares about. It’s just him and his phone – without the mediation of aides or cooler heads.)
And, it’s not just the raw numbers of tweets or complaints from Trump about the Mueller investigation. It’s the vitriol, the name-calling, the anger. That matters too.
It’s not too much to say that Trump is driven to distraction by the probe. Don’t believe me? Ask White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“It’s a witch hunt, right?” Kelly said Friday. “It distracts him. Not too much, but it’s unfair.” (Kelly initially told NPR that Trump was “embarrassed” by the investigation but later amended that to “distracted.”)
Let’s say that the source who told the Post that Trump brings up the probe 20 times a day was exaggerating – and that the President only complains about Mueller and the investigation half that often.
That means that Trump has talked about Mueller 1,340 distinct times since January 1. And 3,620 times since the probe started last year. That is still an absolute ton!
Can you imagine Trump talking about the tax cut law 20 times a day? Or building the wall? Or any policy issue?
The reality is that the Mueller probe has been and remains the dominant motif of the Trump presidency to date. From the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn just three weeks after Trump took office to the firing of FBI Director James Comey to today, the Russia story and, eventually, the Mueller investigation, has never been far from the top of the news.
No one has paid closer attention to the story than Trump himself – constantly monitoring developments in search of definitive proof that he is the victim of a broad-scale Deep State conspiracy aimed at bringing down his presidency. (Yes, this is “Homeland”-type of stuff.)
There is a tendency among Trump haters to assume that the President’s obsession with the Russia investigation is definitive evidence of his guilt. (Comey, in his memoir about his life and times in the Trump administration, wondered aloud why the President kept bringing up the Russia story and looking for reassurance that he was not under investigation.)
Which is a possibility, for sure. But I don’t think that Trump’s tendency to bring up Mueller and the investigation are definitive proof of guilt – or innocence.
What they are proof of is Trump’s obsession with the investigation. He is fixated on it. It is his hobbyhorse. It is top of the mind for him. It animates and angers him. He can’t compartmentalize and push it off while he pursues things like, say, some sort of deal with North Korea. For at least parts of each day, it consumes him.
That’s a big story. No matter what Mueller ultimately finds out.