(CNN)Late Sunday, as a weekend of frenzied speculation and spin drew to an anxious close, #MuellerMonday began to trend on Twitter. A few hours later, a little more than two days after CNN broke the news that a grand jury had approved charges in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation, the names were revealed.
The indictments, though, included no suggestion of election meddling. Manafort and Gates’ alleged crimes took place before they signed up with the candidate. President Donald Trump quickly logged on and began to gloat
But there was more. It was also revealed that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump, had pleaded guilty earlier this month to making a false statement to the FBI. His lie — or the truth beyond it — was potentially more damaging
than anything to do with Manafort and Gates. Papadopoulos copped to misleading investigators about a conversation with a Russian “contact,” believed to have ties to Moscow, about “dirt” related to Hillary Clinton’s emails.
By noon on #MuellerMonday, the initial flurry of reactions and responses settled into four distinct camps — some hewing closer to reality than others.
1. Caution or (near) silence
Senate Democrats and most of their colleagues in the House, in particular those tied to ongoing congressional investigations into the Trump campaign and Russia, mostly kept mum — careful not to further politicize the process and potentially give Trump a pretext for dismissing Mueller. Most Republicans were cautious too, clearly conscious of the President’s ire.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a series of tweets, steered clear of the particulars.
“The special counsel’s probe is ongoing in a serious way. The rule of law is paramount in America & the investigation must proceed unimpeded,” Schumer began
. “(Trump) must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way. If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was also vague on Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos. In a statement, she pushed for “an outside, fully independent investigation to expose Russia’s meddling in our election and the involvement of Trump officials.” Translation: a probe that can’t be called off, in the way Trump can fire Mueller, at the whim of the White House.
“The President should let the special counsel do his job,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, adding later in a statement that he didn’t have any more information on Mueller’s doings than what had been made public. (He too scurried away when pressed for more by reporters.)
Liberal grassroots groups were also careful not to overplay the moment.
MoveOn.org blasted an email to reporters trumpeting the “300+ events” being planned to launch in case Trump “interferes with the criminal investigation into his campaign and administration.”
Meanwhile, Indivisible co-executive director Ezra Levin urged his followers to keep their eyes on Capitol Hill: “Even on #ManafortMonday, we need to focus on where we have leverage. Right now, that’s the #TrumpTaxScam,” a reference to ongoing fight over the Republican tax plan.
2. Irrational exuberance
Liberal social media channels were less restrained. They have, in many cases, openly agitated for Trump’s impeachment or more aggressive action as it relates to Russia and the campaign. For them, the indictments — and the guilty plea on top of that — felt like a major step forward.
Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, was typically dramatic. He addressed a bunch of the big names in a series of Monday morning tweets.
“Dear Paul Manafort & Richard Gates: Here’s a fun fact for you. Federal prosecutors have a conviction rate of 93%,” he started off, linking to an early story about the indictments. “Thank you Special Counsel Mueller for draining the Swamp. #MAGA,” he posted a couple hours later. Lieu then tagged Trump in three more messages.
“We the people must never tolerate our leaders’ collaboration with foreign adversaries against us,” Evan McMullin, the former presidential candidate and conservative favorite of the the liberal #resistance, tweeted
at 8:41 a.m. ET. The grim declaration hinted at more serious allegations than could be found in any of the new court documents.
A little after noon, he added
: “Trump and his surrogates seem to confuse widely known and overt collusion with ‘no evidence’ of it. We’ve seen enough already.”
Former Obama Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller, another heavy presence on Twitter, suggested the potential for a direct, and much more recent, connection between the Papadopolous plea and Trump.
“The FBI interview where Papadopolous lied about his Russia contacts came on the same day, Jan. 27, Trump asked Comey for a loyalty pledge,” he noted ominously. (There is nothing material, at this point, to suggest any connection between the two events.)
3. Claims of vindication/conspiracy
How, you ask, can one person make those two claims at once?
Trump managed it in a pair of tweets.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” he wrote in response to initial reports, adding: “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
Fox News and other conservative outlets loyal to the White House mostly kept in step with Trump throughout the early afternoon, focusing on what was not in the indictments and asking why Clinton had not come under more scrutiny. This is a familiar tactic for stoking the kind of partisan and tribal resentments that might blind segments of the public to the facts on the ground.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pursued that line repeatedly during her afternoon briefing.
“The real collusion scandal, as we’ve said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS and Russia,” she said, after dismissing the indictments as unrelated to Trump. “There’s clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election.”
(Note: This is false, as we wrote last week.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson steered clear of the Clinton conspiracy theories and summed up the prevailing wisdom in more sober right-wing quarters.
“Much of the political left is cheering about the indictment of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort,” he wrote
in a piece for FoxNews.com. “They think it will undermine President Trump. The problem, though, is that it appears increasingly likely that Manfort’s indictment has nothing to do with the Trump campaign.”
4. What charges?
For Republicans who have either staked their careers or legislative agenda to Trump, there is simply no political upside — at least that they can see — in engaging with these issues.
“Every morning, I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I’ll have to pretend I didn’t see later on,” House Speaker Paul Ryan joked at the Al Smith Dinner
in New York a couple weeks ago.
On Monday morning, he seemed to reprise that act, telling reporters in Wisconsin he hadn’t been paying close attention to the latest developments.
“It is big news, but this is what you get from a special counsel — they made an indictment,” he said. “I really have nothing to add because I haven’t even read it, so I’m not going to speculate on something I haven’t read.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also steered clear of the Mueller drama. He spoke at a press conference on the Hill but ducked out rather than take questions from reporters.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/30/politics/mueller-charges-different-reaction/index.html