On March 20, James Comey publicly confirmed the existence of a federal investigation into the Trump campaign. The following day, the White House leaked classified material to the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in a bid to turn the panel’s Russia probe into an investigation of illicit surveillance by the Obama administration. The day after that, the president (reportedly) asked the director of national intelligence to tell the FBI director to lay off Michael Flynn.
On Wednesday night, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice became public knowledge. The New York Times and Washington Post both reported that Mueller is seeking interviews with senior intelligence officials, as part of an inquiry into whether the president’s conduct toward Comey constituted a federal crime. The papers also reported that Mueller is looking into the possibility that Trump associates engaged in money laundering or other financial crimes with Russian officials as their co-conspirators.
Now, Mueller’s job (and/or rule of law in the United States) may be in jeopardy.
There are a few things worth noting about these tweets:
(1) Somehow, “Nice” is far sadder than “Sad!” ever was.
(2) It is illegal to obstruct an investigation, even if the allegations that launched that investigation prove to be untrue.
(3) “Bad and conflicted people” is an ominous phrase. Here, Trump appears to be directly referring to arguments for firing Mueller from Newt Gingrich and other right-wing infotainers.
Gingrich’s charge is that Mueller, though himself a Republican, has hired multiple investigators who have donated to Democratic politicians (something they have in common with Donald J. Trump). Earlier this week, the Washington Examiner suggested that Mueller’s close working relationship with Comey rendered him unfit to lead his investigation in an impartial manner.
Earlier this week, Newsmax founder and Trump confidant Chris Ruddy said that the president was thinking of firing Mueller. Melania and chief-of-staff Reince Priebus talked Trump out of that move, according to the New York Times.
A GOP operative who spoke with Axios believes it isn’t a coincidence that word of the obstruction investigation leaked days after Mueller’s termination was floated.
“Leak was probably a response to stories about POTUS firing Mueller,” the source texted reporter Jonathan Swan. “Can’t fire him now.”
But then, one might have said the same thing about Comey after he revealed the existence of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
The truth is, Trump very much can fire Mueller, in that he can do virtually anything the GOP lets him. Granted, obstructing an investigation into one’s alleged attempts to obstruct investigations isn’t a great look. But neither is saying that you fired the FBI director because he was investigating your associates on national television — or, for that matter, saying how much you love nonconsensually grabbing women by their genitalia into a live microphone.
But the Republican Party has proven willing to look past those things. Given that fact, it may actually be rational for Trump to can Mueller — depending on what the president has to hide. The obstruction case against Trump appears to be strong. We have little insight into his broader liabilities. But if he or his son-in-law got into a little money laundering, it might make sense to test the congressional GOP’s appetite for debasing itself and our republic.