As entertainer Jackie Gleason used to say, “How sweet it is!”
Oh yes indeed. It’s sweeter than a hot fudge sundae with cherry on top. Donald Trump fired James Comey in the hopes of derailing the Trump-Russia probe – and he wound up screwing himself bigly, because now Comey’s mentor will be relentlessly dogging him, and his Kremlin-abetting apparatchiks, in what’s likely to be a splendid display of American checks and balances.
Robert Mueller – the FBI director appointed by George W. Bush, and kept on the job for three extra years by Barack Obama – is Trump’s worst nightmare. He has bipartisan creds. He won’t take a Trump loyalty oath or wear the Trump armband. He won’t kowtow to the C-team hacks that enable Trump’s idiocies. A former Marine and winner of the Bronze Star, he won’t be intimidated by a draft-avoider who pleaded bone spurs. He’ll take this foreign espionage scandal wherever it goes – if he chooses, he can subpoena Trump’s tax returns! – and Trump’s only recourse is to feel sorry for himself on Twitter.
Tapped yesterday as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor on Kremlingate, Mueller will have a broad mandate to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” – plus, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” – things like perjury and obstruction of justice. Trump whined this morning that Mueller will helm “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history,” which itself is proof that he’s worried about the future of his failed infant presidency.
Trump’s thuggery is bending our institutions, but he can’t seem to break them. This should make us proud to be Americans. The free and independent press is having one of its finest hours – government patriots are leaking vital material virtually every day – and now Rod Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General, has issued his own Declaration of Independence.
Trump had dragged Rosenstein through the mud last week, falsely claiming that Rosenstein had recommended firing Comey over the Hillary case, but yesterday the deputy AG recouped his honor – and the Justice Department’s honor. Here’s why he hired Mueller: “The public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.” (True that. The chain of command includes his boss, Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from scandal-related decisions after he was caught lying about his own backchannel contacts with the Russians.)
Best of all, Rosenstein blindsided the White House; Trump and the other bunker denizens had barely a half hour’s notice that Mueller was already a done deal. Trump rushed out a statement: “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.” That may well be this week’s preeminent thigh-slapper.
If past is prologue (think Watergate and Iran-Contra), Trump and his associates will need to gird themselves for months and years of investigations, subpoenas, and possibly criminal indictments. Not to mention the parallel public probes on Capitol Hill, and a continuing cascade of leaks to the press. Everyone in Trump’s White House, as well as suspected Russia figures like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, would be well-advised to lawyer up.
Don’t be surprised, a few weeks from now, if you see a tweet that goes something like this: “Bobby ‘Showboat’ Mueller keeps picking on good man Mike Flynn. He just won’t let it go. Terrible!” And the tweet will be ignored in the same manner that we walk past a mentally-challenged ranter on a park bench.
The good news, for the spineless Hill Republicans who’ve long been enabling Trump’s tinpot autocratic impulses, and who’ve long been turning a blind eye to the Russian connection, is that now they have a way to duck the press’ relentless questions. They can simply say, “It would be inappropriate to comment, because we wouldn’t want to impede the special prosecutor’s investigation.” But that’s the only good news.
The bad news is that, in all likelihood, their coveted right-wing legislative agenda is as dead as Trump’s nonexistent cred. Washington is sinking into scandal mode; nothing gets done when everyone is monumentally distracted, not knowing which shoes will drop next. (This week’s shoes: Trump spilled intel secrets to the Russians; Trump’s people hired Flynn as national security adviser, even though they knew Flynn was under federal investigation.) At this rate, Trump fans will soon start selling their MAGA caps on eBay.
Granted, Mueller isn’t totally independent; he has to answer to Rosenstein. On paper, it’s theoretically possible that Trump could order Sessions to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller. But if Trump pulled that stunt, he’d be screwing himself even worse. It would be like that scene in Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” when Mickey Mouse destroys the bucket-toting broom that’s flooding his kingdom with water – only to discover that the broom’s fragments have morphed into an army of brooms, each of them heaping more water.
A nightmare indeed. Hours before Trump was gobsmacked by the news about Mueller, he surfaced at the Coast Guard Academy, seeking to remind the graduates that even though they’re about to go forth in the service of their nation, everything is really all about him. He said, “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately.” Oh boo hoo. He ain’t seen nothin’ yet.