Donald Trump returned to the attack over the Russia investigations on Monday, claiming the Obama administration “did nothing” in response to election interference from Moscow other than investigate his campaign “to discredit so Crooked H could win”, producing a scandal “bigger than Watergate”.
The president tweeted less than a week after the NSA and cyber command chief, Adm Mike Rogers, told a Senate committee the president had not authorised him to counter ongoing Russian cyber-attacks and said the US under Trump had “clearly” not done enough in the area.
The Trump White House has also been slow to implement sanctions against Russia passed overwhelmingly by Congress in response to election meddling.
On Sunday, Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough told NBC a bipartisan statement on Russian interference issued before the election was “dramatically watered down” at the insistence of the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
On Monday, Trump wrote: “Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H[illary Clinton] would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling.”
What are the allegations in the Trump-Russia investigation?
The investigation into Trump and his team appears to encompass allegations of collusion, obstruction of justice, abuse of power and charges specific to Trump aides and former aides.
Any case along these lines against the president would be historic. Both of the presidents to face impeachment proceedings in the past century, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, faced obstruction of justice and abuse of power charges.
It’s important to note that the work of the special counsel is secret, and the public has no way of knowing for certain what charges prosecutors may be weighing against the Trump team or, in what would be an extraordinary development, against the president himself.
Mueller is authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and related matters. In other words, potential collusion during the 2016 election.
But so-called “collusion” is only part of it. The special counsel has the broad authority to build a prosecution wherever the inquiry may lead. The investigation has already resulted in charges against former Trump aides such as tax fraud that do not relate directly to election activity.
In the course of the investigation, Trump’s past business practices have also come under scrutiny. With his first indictments of people in Trump’s orbit, the special counsel has demonstrated an appetite for the prosecution of alleged white-collar crimes. The president has denied all wrongdoing.
Congressional committees, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Russian election interference and alleged collusion with Moscow by aides to the Trump campaign.
Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and four former Trump aides: national security adviser Michael Flynn, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.
Flynn, Papadopoulos and Gates have entered plea deals. Manafort maintains his innocence on charges including money laundering and tax and bank fraud. Trump has consistently denied any collusion, calling the investigations a “witch-hunt”.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia said in an interview broadcast by NBC on Sunday his country would “never” extradite the individuals indicted by Mueller.
Testimony to Congress, news reports and books have portrayed the Obama White House as cautious and slow-moving in response to Russian meddling, for fear of being seen to interfere itself in favour of Clinton, the Democratic candidate.
The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, both subject to damaging email hacks, are known to have been frustrated by the slow response.
Competing memos released by members of the House intelligence committee last month addressed the beginning of FBI investigations into Trump aides, specifically Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another foreign policy adviser with links to Russia.
Trump supported the release of the Republican memo, against FBI and justice department wishes, and opposed the release of the Democratic response.