Rule of Law

New group launches effort to defend Mueller probe

In the face of relentless criticism from President Trump and his GOP allies, Robert Mueller hasn’t said a word. But a new organization launching Wednesday aims to promote the public’s awareness of what the Mueller probe has yielded thus far.

Protect the Investigation plans to counteract attacks by the president and his legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, and ratchet up political pressure on Republicans should the White House move against it.

Over the past year an array of progressive advocacy groups and Democrats in Congress have worked to scrutinize potential ties between Russia and the president, his administration and campaign, while also developing contingency plans in the event Trump moves to circumscribe the Mueller probe or end it outright.

The new operation aims to coordinate those to disparate efforts with a narrow focus on promoting Mueller and warning about the potential consequences of any steps the president could take that might bring it to a halt — recognizing that his team and the Justice Department has been unable and unwilling to do it themselves.

The group’s website promotes basic facts about the Mueller team’s output that surveys show a sizable portion of the public isn’t aware of: 191 criminal charges brought, 35 indictments and five guilty pleas. It plans to soon launch a paid television and digital advertising campaign to amplify that message, which will be targeting jurisdictions represented by members of congressional oversight committees and states like Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina where GOP Senate incumbents will face reelection in 2020.

“Republicans on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees need a reminder that no one is above the law. The American people will not allow the Special Counsel’s investigation to be undermined because their representatives have pledged fealty to Donald Trump,” said Tim Hogan, a spokesman for the group.

The effort comes at a potentially critical juncture. Giuliani has said he expects the Mueller team won’t take any action in the two months prior to the midterm elections, citing Justice Department guidelines. And Democrats in Congress will be increasingly consumed as Election Day approaches with their own races and potential leadership contests that could follow.

Republican senators have increasingly seemed resigned to the possibility that Trump might seek to remove Jeff Sessions after the November vote, a step that could result in greater restrictions on the special counsel team’s ongoing activities. Giuliani has also said the president’s team could release its own report to rebut any potential findings by the investigation, one that might raise questions about what the president has cast as a politically-motivated effort against him.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that fewer than half of respondents said they had heard a lot about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort being found guilty of multiple tax and bank fraud charges, while 38 percent only heard some about it and 14 percent not at all. One-in-five respondents said they were unaware that longtime Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance charges.

In another survey conducted for a progressive think tank, only 46 percent of respondents said the Mueller investigation had uncovered crimes — though that figure had ticked up somewhat from the spring.

In addition to its paid advertising campaign, Protect the Investigation says it has recruited 20 surrogates as part of a rapid response team against any disinformation by the president’s allies about the Mueller probe.

The group bills itself as nonpartisan. Its advisory board includes Ned Price, a former spokesman for the National Security Council; Max Bergmann, who leads the Center for American Progress’ Moscow Project; Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center; Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight); Public Citizen vice president of legislative affairs Lisa Gilbert; and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights president Vanita Gupta.