WASHINGTON, Sept 26 (AP) — The White House is dusting off its playbook from the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
Caught off guard by the speed at which a whistleblower’s claims have morphed into an impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump and his team are scrambling to respond.
They’re turning, at least for now, to some of the same strategies they used to counter special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The basic tactics deployed by the short-staffed White House: Attempt to discredit government officials at the heart of the story. Dispatch Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other allies to muddy the picture. Lean on Republicans in Congress to provide cover.
And, most of all, presidential counterattacks.
Just as the Republican president considers himself to be his own best adviser, he often acts as his own most vocal defender.
“It’s a disgrace to our country. It’s another witch-hunt. Here we go again,” an agitated Trump said Thursday as he returned to Washington after four days at the United Nations in New York. “They’re frozen — the Democrats. They’re going to lose the election; they know it. That’s why they’re doing it. And it should never be allowed, what’s happened to this president.”
The velocity at which the whistleblower story enveloped Washington was remarkable.
In just a few days’ time, a whistleblower’s complaint that Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to help investigate political rival Joe Biden led to congressional hearings, allegations of a White House cover-up and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the start of an impeachment inquiry.
The White House was not ready.
While Trump’s strategists have long believed an impeachment push could backfire against Democrats, the president has also voiced concern that impeachment could become the first line of his political obituary.
He lashed out after Pelosi announced the inquiry, firing off tweets from his New York penthouse and winding down his U.N. stay with a press conference at which he seemed aggrieved and subdued.
The next morning, at what was meant to be a salute to the workers from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Trump let loose with a threatening tone on Thursday.
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said, according to audio released by The Los Angeles Times. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
At the same time, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, appeared before Congress and acknowledged that the complaint filed by the whistleblower alleged serious wrongdoing by the president.
Aligning themselves with the White House, most Republican legislators at the hearing wasted few chances to try to undermine the unidentified whistleblower’s credibility. They tried shifting the focus to Democrats and unproven theories, much like those the GOP used to attack Mueller when he testified about his Russia investigation over the summer.