Donald Trump’s demand that the Justice Department investigate the F.B.I. for surveilling aides who were in contact with Russian intelligence agents—or, as he alleges, putting “spies in my campaign”—marks an inflection point in his standoff with special counsel Robert Mueller. “The F.B.I. thing really set him over the edge,” longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who is himself entangled in the investigation, recently told me. “He’s a little rusty, but he’s on offense. And it’s always better to be on offense than defense.”
Trump’s scorched-earth strategy has been in place since Rudy Giuliani replaced Trump’s long-suffering lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb. At first, it looked as if it were careening off course, as Giuliani gave off a series of erratic and combative interviews. Some speculated that Trump might be unhappy with his performance, but sources I spoke to say Trump is pleased. This is the plan. “Rudy doesn’t do anything without Trump’s permission,” said one Republican close to the White House. The strategy grew out of conversations Trump has held in recent weeks with a group of outside advisers that include Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes, Sean Hannity, Dave Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, among others. “People think Trump is angry, but he likes the direction this is going,” an outside White House adviser said.