Jeff Sessions’s long expected departure arrived the day after Trump’s electoral thumping. The timing of the announcement deflected attention from Trump’s defeat and ensured fresh supervision for Robert Mueller before he could break his election hiatus with new public actions. Any possible doubt that Trump orchestrated Sessions’s removal to curtail Mueller’s investigation was removed by his appointment of Matthew Whitaker, an outspoken TV talking head opponent of the investigation, as acting attorney general. Trump’s action accelerates our slow-moving constitutional crisis.
As James Comey continues his book promotion, it has become painfully clear – as predicted – that the tour is another expression of Comey’s hubris that is likely to do more harm than good. He has gone toe-to-toe with Trump, who has been tweeting back insults as if he couldn’t care less about the country or its institutions. Unfortunately, Comey has tangled with Trump on the playground, making their exchange a distasteful round of political mud wrestling.
A few points merit highlighting. First, when it comes to veracity, there is no contest. For all his flaws, Comey comes across – as he did in his congressional testimony – as a superlative fact witness. He tells a story complete with compelling narrative structure and enriching detail. Trump, by contrast, is stunningly inarticulate, scattered, illogical, and transparently self-serving. Oh, and he lies shamelessly, spouting easily disprovable nonsense.
The ever-expanding chaos in the Trump administration has amped up concern that we are reaching the bursting point.
The departures of Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Hope Hicks, Rex Tillerson, Rob Porter, David Shulkin, John Dowd, and others launch a new phase in which Trump can surround himself with characters from his TV world and act even less responsibly. Trump has spewed ever more astonishing tweets disparaging the FBI, DOJ, Democrats, immigrants, and Amazon. Mueller’s net is tightening and, apparently, driving Trump toward desperation.
This is a phase to be dreaded – an endgame in which Trump will cast aside any remaining constraints, launching an orgy of firings, pardons, and maybe a couple of wars. Members of Congress heightened the concern by issuing statements cautioning Trump not to fire Bob Mueller and pushing for legislation to protect him.
Reports that Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller in June, but relented when White House Counsel Don McGahn balked, have morphed into reports that Trump now is eager to fire Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rod Rosenstein.
Trump, of course, built his television reputation as a firing kind of guy, but since his ouster of Jim Comey his firing skills have become suspect. He pointed his firing finger at Jeff Sessions, who remains attorney general; Robert Mueller, who remains special counsel; Andrew McCabe, who will remain number two at the FBI until his scheduled retirement; and now Rosenstein. So Rod should feel pretty secure, for now. Regardless, the threat to fire Rosenstein may be the biggest threat to the continuation of the Russia investigation.
While Mueller captures the spotlight, Rosenstein appointed and can remove Mueller. He has final control over every major investigative step Mueller takes. He can stop proposed indictments and restrict or expand the scope of Mueller’s investigation. He will have final say in whether Mueller reports his findings to Congress for impeachment proceedings. Rosenstein’s replacement with a Trump loyalist would be devastating to the investigation. While much of the investigation already has been done, the fruits of it may not emerge if the DAG objects. Read more
As we careen toward the end of a tumultuous year, President Trump and many of his supporters have put down their eggnog to launch attacks on the nation’s law enforcement structure.
By undermining the legitimacy of the front line institutions that uphold the law, these attacks threaten the rule of law itself. They have not yet succeeded and must not be allowed to do so.
Trump’s attacks appear driven by his compulsion to lash out at anything that threatens his presidency or his fragile ego. The pace and ferocity of Trump’s attacks often correlate with new developments in the Russia investigation. Recall that Trump and his lawyers predicted months ago that the investigation would wrap up by the end of the year. At year’s end, however, the investigation appears to be expanding and intensifying. We learned, for example, that Robert Mueller is looking into possible connections between the Trump campaign’s data operation and the Russians’ very precise targeting of social media attacks. We also got a whiff from The Washington Post that the White House is on the verge of panic about cooperator Michael Flynn. It reported that advisors are preparing an assault on Flynn’s credibility. Such an assault makes sense only if Mueller is about to act on the basis of Flynn’s cooperation, since denouncing Flynn prematurely as a liar will only incline Flynn to be more forthcoming with Mueller’s investigation. The leaking of this strategy occurred after a meeting between Mueller’s team and Trump’s attorneys. These circumstances suggest the possibility of a Mueller move in the near term, though past actions such as the completely unexpected Papadopoulos plea reveal that nobody outside the investigation knows for sure. Read more