the national interest

Trump Hasn’t Fired Mueller Yet Because His Lawyer Is Blowing Sunshine

President Trump is waiting for a Thanksgiving resolution to the Russia investigation. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Years ago, my wife and I moved into a fixer-upper townhouse, and we hired contractors to replace the somewhat shabby kitchen. One September day, their workers came and tore out the old kitchen, leaving nothing behind but bare wooden paneling. We moved the old refrigerator into the dining room. I bought buckets of premade barbecued chicken that we ate off paper plates for dinner almost every night. We had no first-floor sink at all, so when we had leftover water in our paper cups, we’d open the front door and toss it on the plants outside. It was bad. But our contractor had one word for us: Thanksgiving. All the work would be finished by Thanksgiving.

The fall weeks rolled by, and nary a worker was to be found. The work wasn’t going slowly; it was not going at all. Sometime in January, our contractors informed us that the workers had left to get better jobs elsewhere immediately after tearing out our outdated but still functional kitchen. But during the months this travesty went on, they calmed us with near-daily reassurances. Thanksgiving.

While I don’t empathize with President Trump, I felt some pang of recognition when I read the Washington Post account of how the White House is handling the Russia investigation. The outward signs, from Trump’s perspective, look extremely dire. Legal experts tell the Post that Robert Mueller’s investigation appears to be “still in its early stages,” likely to “to extend deep into 2018 and possibly longer.” People on the inside of the investigation have even more ominous news: “Witnesses questioned by Mueller’s team warn that investigators are asking about other foreign contacts and meetings that have not yet become public, and to expect a series of new revelations.”

A series of new revelations. That’s bad.

A source close to the administration tells the Post that Mueller is running “a classic Gambino-style roll-up” that “will reach everyone in this administration.” When you read histories of the more successful presidential administrations in American history, a phrase you don’t usually come across is “Gambino-style roll-up.”

However, in the face of this mounting evidence and the warnings of some allies, Trump has remained — by Trump’s standards — fairly calm. Obviously, by the standards of a normal president, he is acting like a complete lunatic. But given Trump’s patterns of spewing indiscriminate rage and abuse and lashing out at his enemies in wildly counterproductive fashion, he has conducted himself with notable restraint. Despite his barely concealed impulses, Trump has refrained from mass pardons or attempting to fire Mueller.

The apparent reason for his serenity is that his lawyer, Ty Cobb, has placated Trump with promises that Mueller’s probe would be over soon. “The president himself, however, has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe. Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving,” the Post reports.

Thanksgiving. It will all be over by Thanksgiving.

By this point, three days before Thanksgiving, it should be relatively clear Mueller’s work is not going to be completed before the turkey is served. The Post notes that Cobb “adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.”

We had the same promise from our contractor. When our kitchen still looked like the inside of a treehouse on Monday of Thanksgiving week, he finally admitted the work would not be done by Thanksgiving. New Year’s?, I asked. Oh, definitely by New Year’s, he replied with a chuckle, adding that he was certain it would all be completed well in advance of that date. (Nota bene: It wasn’t.)

The obvious question arising from this report is, what happens when Mueller fails to meet the deadline Cobb has arbitrarily set for him? If Cobb has bought time with Trump by blowing sunshine up his ass, at some point Trump will stop believing his lawyer’s absurdly copacetic analysis and start believing the people who are warning him about the Gambino-style roll-up under way. That point might come after Thanksgiving, it might come at New Year’s, or perhaps early next year. At some point, Trump is going to blow.

Trump Hasn’t Fired Mueller Yet, Lawyer Is Blowing Sunshine