Plenty of President Trump's supporters may be upset about the slow rollout of his administration's agenda, but one member of the Trump family has come up with a reason for it. Speaking to an audience of young, conservative activists in Florida on Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. warned a conspiracy theory against his dad was afoot, one that involved "people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America."
In a speech at West Palm Beach during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Trump Jr. was heavily critical of the Russia investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller, and media coverage of both. In recent weeks, conservatives, elected Republican officials, and even Trump Jr. himself have been lashing out at the independent counsel investigation. In his speech, he called it "emblematic" of a "rigged system":
My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign, and people were like, "Oh, what are you talking about?" But it is. And you're seeing it.
The president's oldest son brought up the accusations against a few of the FBI agents that were working on the Russia investigation under Mueller. Some had sent text messages that were critical of Trump during the election, saying things like, "There's no way he gets elected — but I'm afraid we can't take that risk."
On Tuesday, Trump Jr. told the summit audience to picture what would happen if it were 2008 and it was Obama's presidency that some FBI officials were trying to undermine. "What do you think would happen?" he asked. "Do you think the media would cover that? Yeah. Do you think it would be brushed under the rug like, 'Oh, it's nothing. It doesn't mean anything.' There'd be revolution in the streets. So I'm glad that this is coming out now, because it is good, because real people have to see this."
General Michael Hayden, the former CIA and NSA director, told CNN that Trump's Jr.'s words were troublesome. "I have to confess when I first heard that earlier this evening — that was a little scary, that is an appeal to the heart of autocracy, and challenging the patriotism of those folks who work in the United States government," Hayden told CNN host Don Lemon.
He even suggested that Trump Jr.'s words might show that the family's inner circle is more concerned about the direction that the Mueller investigation is heading than they let on. "In their heart of hearts they don’t think this investigation is going to a happy place, at least not a happy place from their point of view," Hayden said.
Democrats and some Republicans have moved to protect Mueller from the attacks, even taking actions to ensure that the president cannot fire him from his position as special counsel, or pressure others within the Justice Department to fire Mueller for him. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Cory Booker even introduced a bill that would require a court approval for the attorney general to fire him. Trump has even publicly insisted that he isn't going to fire Mueller after there was talk about him considering doing so.
Of course Trump Jr. and his GOP allies might not actually be looking to drive out Mueller. They could just be hoping to win the contest of public opinion, particular with Trump supporters. A poll done this month by Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll showed 54 percent think special counsel Mueller has conflicts of interest that prevent him from doing his job.
While conspiracy theories like the one Trump Jr. floated on Tuesday seem far-fetched to many, attacks like these could play a very real role in influencing how Americans — especially those who support his dad — view Mueller's investigation.