The witch hunt in Washington gets messy

President Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, decrying a “Witch Hunt Hoax” and saying that Mueller’s appointment was “unconstitutional”. The president also asserted his “absolute right” to pardon himself. He tweeted about his former campaign manager Paul Manafort for the first time since his indictment, says Mark Moore in the New York Post, saying that had he known the FBI was “doing a number on him” he wouldn’t have been taken on.

These fresh attacks are “particularly eyebrow-raising” as they come during a period of “relative public quiet” for the Russia investigation, says Andrew Prokop in Vox. One new development is a pair of leaked letters sent by Trump’s lawyers to Mueller’s team which assert that Trump is essentially free to do as he likes since he has absolute authority over all federal investigations. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, has said that Trump “probably” has the right to pardon himself but acknowledged the “high political cost”, namely an “immediate impeachment”, says Kadhim Shubber in the Financial Times.

As for his lawyer’s argument that a subpoena would be a “considerable burden for the President and his Office” and that it “demeans” the Office “before the world”, the idea is laughable, says Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Trump spends “countless hours” watching TV and most weekends playing golf. He could “surely find time “ for an interview. The bigger question is why he is escalating things now, says Prokop. Can it simply be ascribed to his “simmering rage”?

Is he trying to make the public case for why he shouldn’t be subpoenaed? Or is there “some other” cause? We don’t know, not least because Mueller’s strategy remains “opaque”. But, ultimately, this all seems to be headed “somewhere very messy indeed”.