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Thursday, June 15, 2017


“Dear God, keep him away from Twitter”

by Tom Sullivan

The Trump White House made quite the fuss of insisting former FBI director James Comey's testimony before the Senate last week "completely and totally vindicated" him. As Trump had insisted, Comey told the president he was not personally under FBI investigation at the time. His victory dance, however, was completely and totally premature.

The Washington Post last night reported those assurances are, in Washingtonese, no longer operative. Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election has expanded to include examination of whether Trump himself attempted to obstruct justice:

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.
The Post reports that Trump's current director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, and Richard Ledgett, a former Rogers deputy, could be interviewed by Mueller’s team "as early as this week."

Trump's personal attorneys declared the leak behind the Post report, “outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”

A followup report by the Wall Street Journal adds more detail to the financial crimes angle (emphasis added):

The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller has requested to interview Rick Ledgett, the NSA’s recently retired deputy director. Ledgett reportedly wrote a memo documenting a phone call between Admiral Mike Rogers, the NSA’s director, and the president. Trump questioned the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered with the election, and tried to persuade Rogers to say there was no evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia, the Journal reported.

Trump could theoretically invoke executive privilege to try to block the release of documents like that memorandum, but would be unlikely to find a sympathetic judge: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Nixon from using the privilege to withhold evidence in a criminal investigation in U.S. v. Nixon in 1974. The Times also reported Mueller is probing the possibility of money laundering by Trump’s associates, on the theory that any collusion with Russian officials might have involved pay-offs, which would then have needed to be concealed.
Follow the money laundering, Deep Throat said (more or less) during the Post's Watergate investigation.

No one knows how deep this rabbit hole goes, but the challenge now for White House officials will be to stop Donald Trump from digging himself deeper. They worry he might yet attempt to fire Mueller. "Political suicide," one White House official told Daily Beast, conceding Trump might just try it anyway:
For now, officials are simply concerned with limiting fallout from what is sure to be a thunderous reaction from the president to news that he is personally the target of the FBI’s probe.

Asked what the internal game plan should be, one senior Trump administration official replied, “Keep him away from Twitter, dear God, keep him away from Twitter.”

“The president did this to himself,” the official added.
Keeping him off Twitter is not working. At all.

Donald Trump imagined the power of the presidency the way he viewed his power as a real estate magnate. That being the richest guy in the room and a celebrity, he could stare down, shout down, bully, intimidate or leverage his way to getting his way. As president, he would just have more of that. But Trump has never held real power or sat across the table from people with real power. Trump the political naif is in the position he is this morning because he brought the same vainglorious style to the world stage that seemed to work for him in the private sector. But the White House is not the private sector. World leaders are not so easily browbeaten and cowed as subcontractors. Trump's alpha-dog handshake routine won't work here. And it won't intimidate Robert Mueller. Trump has the power to fire him. Mueller has the power to neuter his presidency.

It is not clear Trump has yet learned that lesson. Trump being Trump, he will likely refuse to.