A witch hunt. That’s what President Donald Trump calls the appointment of a special counsel to investigate potential Russian political ties in the United States. At least that was Trump’s opinion last week.
But there’s another way to view the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the election and possible collusion between them and Trump’s campaign.
It is actually a blessing, at least short-term. The Trump White House has appeared in chaos recently with new allegations almost daily of miscues, missteps and blunderings based on alleged memos leaked by unidentified law enforcement sources currently in office and recently departed.
We warned the other day that Trump’s peremptory firing of James Comey and shifting storyline would thoroughly alienate Comey and his colleagues “who are real pros at the Washington game of assassination by leak.”
Now, unless Mueller vetoes it as hampering his own probe, Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next month. Republicans will want him to square previous testimony under oath that no one had ever sought to interfere in his Russia investigation with an anonymously leaked memo allegedly by Comey saying Trump had asked him to drop the Russia investigation into Michael Flynn, former Trump national security adviser.
Democrats, who not so long ago wanted Comey’s head for unelecting Hillary Clinton last fall, will try to lionize the career prosecutor as a martyr in their drive to delegitimize this White House.
Here’s where the Mueller appointment is good news for Trump. Mueller has basically unlimited powers now, able to take this investigation in any and all directions. He is universally respected as a straight-shooter in Washington, a rare breed in that swamp.
He can, for instance, lean on Congress to curb its own investigations as complicating the main one. For Trump, this would helpfully stanch the daily drip-drip of bad revelations, some of which may even be true.
Unlike almost any member of Congress – or a previous special prosecutor or two – Mueller is no publicity hound. We are unlikely to see him exiting a building, surrounded by cameras and boom mics, announcing some scrap of damning evidence he just uncovered.
Mueller can take as long as he wants. In fact, he may now be the most powerful person in D.C. And until his final report, Sean Spicer or any of the other sacrificial subs sent out to this media mob can simply say no comment. The issue is in Mueller’s hands.
If Mueller’s final report finds no chargeable crimes, as Trump predicts, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will go into mourning. And the Russia incident is as dead as many of Vladimir Putin’s opponents.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is, if long term there’s anything criminal there, Mueller will find it and he will report it. If it involves former Trump campaign aides, there’ll be a passing stink. If somehow Mueller’s evidence trail leads to Trump despite all his bluster and denials, then we could be looking at President Pence.
What’s also quite striking in the hysterical media coverage of the usurper Trump is what didn’t happen before. Remember Attorney General Eric Holder’s Fast and Furious gun-running operation into Mexico? It was botched. Drug gangs got the guns and killed a border agent.
Holder stonewalled congressional investigators. He got censured. No special counsel.
Remember Internal Revenue Service agents stalling conservative Obama opponents in 2011-12 seeking nonprofit status? Other applicants sailed through. Not the ones who might have made trouble for Obama’s re-elect. Obama professed outrage, and later denied there was a “smidgen” of proof. No special counsel.
Remember Benghazi, where four Americans died because Hillary Clinton’s State Department was unprepared? Without interviewing Clinton, a handpicked Accountability Review Board found no one person at fault, just a few systemic problems. No special counsel.
Or Clinton’s long-running email scandal, in which she routinely mishandled national security documents on an unsecured private server in violation of government regulations. Comey chose not to prosecute because he said he couldn’t prove intent through years of such violations.
Congress investigated all three with no real results beyond words.
For those of us in flyover country, the wily ways of Washington and its in-house media chroniclers eagerly being used by anonymous sources choose which scandals to snuff and which to fuel. That institutional coziness and congressional ineptitude by both parties partly explain the voter disgust that elected the angriest candidate as president. Never mind his qualifications.
The anger and suspicions of that plurality simmer to this day largely unnoticed back there. Hopefully, the probity of Mueller’s probe will prove convincing whichever way it goes.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.