US President Donald Trump has executed a vicious and sustained attack on those investigating him over two years, attacking his critics and forcing his circle to pledge absolute loyalty.
And most infuriatingly for the unpredictable President, the press will not leave him alone.
That became evident when the New York Times published an astonishing piece on his war against any who criticise him, complete with firings and public humiliation.
Mr Trump responded to the latest revelations by tweeting: “The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
Earlier, he claimed the media “has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact.”
The eye-opening report revealed just how aggressively the President has targeted the Russia investigation, exposing new detail about how he pressured those around him to kill off the probe, which is expected to reveal its findings next week. It assessed Mr Trump had attacked the probe more than 1100 times in his war of attrition.
“Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs,” wrote Maggie Haberman in the Times.
The President targeted Jeff Sessions with repeated attacks after the then-Attorney-General recused himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, before eventually firing him. Mr Trump then asked acting AG Matthew Whitaker whether one of his allies Geoffrey Berman — US lawyer for the Southern District of New York — could take control of the investigation, the newspaper reported.
Mr Whitaker, who said his job was to “jump on a grenade” for the President, refused, since Mr Berman had already recused himself over another routine conflict of interest but reportedly told associates the New York prosecutors needed “adult supervision”.
Last April, Mr Trump dumped a legal team that had advised him to co-operate with the investigation and hired former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer. Mr Trump also began a verbal campaign against Mr Mueller’s investigation, which the President has repeatedly branded a “rigged witch hunt”, insisting — usually in capital letters — there is “no evidence of collusion”.
He also waged war on the Justice Department, with his advisers believing impeachment was a bigger threat than an indictment by Mr Mueller.
But his behaviour can hardly be labelled a conspiracy since the President has been so open in attacking the investigation. “The President’s brazen public behaviour might be his best defence,” wrote the Times.
And Mr Trump’s vitriol was not just reserved for that publication. He also tweeted a statement from “MAGA teen” Nick Sandmann, who is suing the Washington Post, claiming it “ignored basic journalistic standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump”.
The crisis began just 25 days into Mr Trump’s tenure and centres on whether his 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia in meddling in the democratic process.
His top campaign adviser Michael Flynn resigned after coming under investigation by the FBI for contact with Russians and secret foreign lobbying for Turkey. The newspaper claims Mr Trump decided to say he had asked Flynn to resign because it “sounds better”.
“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” the President said at lunch that day, according to a new book by former New Jersey governor and Trump ally Chris Christie. Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner reportedly agreed.
“This Russia thing is far from over,” Christie replied.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer then released a memo stating the White House had investigated Flynn and lawyers concluded there were no legal issues surrounding his conduct. Flynn is now awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.
Mr Trump later tried to pressure FBI director James Comey into stating Flynn was a good guy. When Mr Comey did not do so, the President flew into a rage before firing him — at which point Mr Mueller was hired and matters got much worse.
Mr Trump has in recent days lashed out at former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, whose new book details his concerns about potential foreign influence over the President and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who initiated Mr Mueller’s investigation.
Mr Trump said Mr McCabe and Mr Rosenstein “look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught”.
He suggested key officials involved in the Russia probe were engaged in “treasonous” behaviour.
Meanwhile, a judge granted a request by Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to delay the start of his prison term by two months so he can prepare to testify before Congress.
Cohen — who claims the President directed him to arrange illegal hush payments to two women before the 2016 election — is scheduled to deliver closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on February 28 and has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
His testimony to the House Oversight Committee was delayed when Cohen alleged Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani were making public threats against him and his family.