Donald Trump was reportedly blindsided last night by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Rosenstein called White House Counsel Don McGahn right after signing the order naming former FBI director Robert Mueller to the role, and McGahn gave the shocking news to the boss.
As Politico tells us, the explosion one might have expected did not occur:
Trump handled it better than anyone expected, according to a person in the room. His reaction was “extremely measured,” another said.He didn’t yell or scream. He told the assembled crowd they had nothing to hide.
He didn’t yell or scream. He told the assembled crowd they had nothing to hide.
In a bit over an hour, Trump had released a carefully worded statement, and he and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus took the time to reassure the staff and even suggest it might be a good thing:
Priebus and Trump together delivered a rally-the-troops message to the team: “This is an opportunity to let them do their work so we can do ours,” Priebus and Trump both reiterated multiple times to the aides gathered.
Perhaps the president had a troubled night, or maybe it was just a matter of a delayed reaction to a startling event. But for whatever reason this morning’s tweets reflect a very different state of mind:
This second tweet is a return to the self-pitying tone Trump adopted at yesterday’s Coast Guard Academy commencement, when he whined: “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
And the first tweet suggests that it does not occur to Trump that his and other Republicans’ endless attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton might look a bit witchy-hunty to more objective observers.
In any event, Trump advisers should be rushing to his side this morning to urge him not to publicly contradict his own privately calm reaction to the Mueller appointment. If, as Trump insists, he and his people have nothing to hide, then having a special prosecutor looking into it all poses no long-term threat to his presidency, and has a lot of short-term benefits. Rosenstein’s surprise move essentially acted as a circuit breaker, stopping what was beginning to look like Watergate on fast forward and offering a respite from an atmosphere of crisis and finger-pointing that left Trump’s GOP allies stumbling in the dark. If nothing else, Mueller’s appointment will slow everything down for months, giving an understaffed and overwhelmed administration time to act more strategically. There will be plenty of time to plot unpleasant things for Rosenstein down the road, when fewer people are watching.
It is also possible, of course, that Trump understands all this, and his angry tweets are simply chum in the water to keep his “base” agitated in his defense, and prepared to interpret future adverse events as an attempted coup by the media, its “deep state” accomplices, and assorted evil elites. But for the embattled, shell-shocked denizens of Trump’s White House, the president’s sunrise tweetstorms are another reason it’s impossible to sleep easily.