When the definitive books are written on the Russia scandal, Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds will end up having played an even larger role in preordaining the end to his presidency than his collusion with Russia or war on the hallowed principle that America is a government of laws and not men like himself with monstrous egos. Events in the coming days will bear that out.
Trump's summary dismissal of James Comey under false pretenses, driven by his narcissistism-driven impetuousness, fears that an FBI director he had consistently praised was closing in on him and the imprecations of his evil son-in-law, Jared Kushner, backfired badly. This is because it led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, who may be the only person with the investigative chops and political savvy to bring down his presidency.
That savviness may in the long run actually matter more, and I'll explain why a bit further down.
Mueller got the call from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump's staunchest supporter and first Cabinet pick, was not available. He had recused himself earlier because of his own Russia scandal misrememberments and denials under oath that anything of substance was discussed.
It soon transpired that Trump was beyond angry at his AG for doing the right thing and then it was was revealed in an extraordinary leak to The Washington Post last week based on U.S. intelligence intercepts that Sessions had yet again lied about those disrememberments. In fact, Sessions had had two in-depth chats with the Russian ambassador about presidential campaign-related matters and policy issues important to Moscow. (Adoption apparently did not come up.).
Sessions has survived the weekend, but it probably will only be a matter of time before he resigns or is dismissed, possibly while Congress is in its lengthy summer recess, which begins on July 31. With Republicans back home making excuses as to why six months into the Trump presidency he and they haven't done bupkis although they totally control government, he would have greater latitude to name a new AG who could then fire Mueller on the pretext that the special counsel is biased.
No matter the route, those self-inflicted wounds will lead to the same thing -- a constitutional crisis reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre and final days of the Richard Nixon presidency -- and we'll all have a ringside seat to see whether history will repeat itself.
Although Comey and then Mueller in his stead have developed investigative leads in a variety of areas, the smart money says it's . . . the money that will bring Trump down.§
The wealth of newly divulged information about Trump's financial wheelings and dealings over the past 20 years adds up to what, on balance, is rather simple. In the late 1990s, Trump was deeply in debt, couldn't get loans from U.S. banks and turned to Russian oligarchs with bucketsful of rubles and Deutsche Bank, a German financial institution that those very oligarchs were using to launder their dirty money. When Trump ran for president and won with an assist from the Kremlin, the bills came due and that is what he is really sweating.
Meanwhile, look at the WaPo blockbuster on Sessions as a warning shot to Trump from an intelligence community with the balls congressional Republicans lack as they find ways to pretend that Trump has not embraced America's leading foe and its own president even while belatedly condescending to bipartisan support for tough new Russia sanctions for its election interference and annexation of Crimea.
And be confident that Trump will not only refuse to take the hint, but will embark on another round of self-inflicted wounds.
Which he already has kicked off with a threat to Mueller to stay away from investigating his family's finances (the overriding concern here for Trump is that his hitherto secret income tax returns will of course reveal really bad stuff) to a weekend tweetstorm asserting he has "complete power to pardon" anyone he damned well pleases, including his royal self.
The flip side of all this sound and fury is Robert Mueller and the special counsel's investigative team.§
We know what they're up to in general terms and there have been a few well-placed leaks to the media.
We know what they're up against as Trump and his legal team try to limit the scope of their work if not shut them down outright.
And we know they are pretty much the only way that precious balance can be restored, returning America to being a government of laws.
Now comes a timely article titled "How White House Threats Condition Mueller's Reality" on the Lawfare blog. It is a smartly nuanced perspective on what it must be like to be Mueller and know the president is coming for you and you might not have much time to pull off the most important investigation since the 9/11 attacks, which turned out to be pretty much a whitewash.
The Lawfare reporter-editor team of Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes explore six broad areas that Mueller must consider as he proceeds -- the design of his investigation, whether to work from the bottom up or the top down, how quickly to proceed, when or whether to refer their investigation to Congress for impeachment, how to defend his staff from attacks and how to resist being removed.
The team's big sum-up in pondering whether Trump might revoke the special counsel law enabling Mueller and in doing so obliterate his office, is that he certainly has the power do so.
In any event, Mueller has to operate on the assumption that Trump could get it done. And that means he's probably given some thought to how he would handle a removal. What does that consist of? There's not actually much Mueller can do about it. The protection against removal is ultimately a political one, not a regulatory or legal one, and that means Mueller can't do much more than try to condition the politics as as to make the constraints on the president as binding as possible. That means having the sort of relationships with the relevant committees in Congress such that any firing would be considered politically unacceptable. . . . It's crucial not merely that Congress be unwilling to tolerate a disruption of the investigation, but that Trump knows that it is unwilling to do so.
I dare say that Mueller is, in his own legendarily circumspect way, conditioning the politics, but we need to take a deep breath and look at the big picture, which is necessitated because of the play-by-play nature of the barrage of media scandal coverage:
The president of the United States has been accused of conspiring with Russia to win the presidency, there ample evidence to back that up, and the president has made it clear that he will not allow Mueller's investigation to go forward.
Could the stakes be any higher?
If Trump does not step back from the brink, the only thing standing between you and I and authoritarianism is . . . you and I taking to the streets, marching on Washington and demanding that Congress impeach Trump.
Be strong, be brave and be prepared.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.