I would inform you that President Trump is raging about special counsel Robert Mueller on Twitter again, but then you would shrug and conclude that the news is in reruns this morning.
This is the 440th day of the Mueller investigation. No doubt, the former FBI director is working the highest of high-stakes investigations, with enormous consequences for everything from the presidency to U.S.–Russian relations to Silicon Valley, and sorting all of that out will take time. There’s little to no room for error; the president and his allies will seize on any mistake, misstep, unsupported assertion, or legal setback. No one outside the investigation really knows whether it’s wrapping up or whether there’s still a lot of work ahead, and no one knows whether Mueller will turn in his final report before or after the midterm elections.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial starts Tuesday. USA Today summarizes the charges:
The multicount indictment against Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, alleges two kinds of crimes: 1) hiding from U.S. authorities, including the IRS, millions of dollars in payments for work on behalf of the pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and then-President Viktor Yanukovych; and 2) falsifying applications for loans from banks after Yanukovych was deposed and Manafort’s income plunged precipitously, imperiling his extravagant lifestyle.
You notice that all of that . . . doesn’t really involve Trump, other than the egregious judgment to hire someone involved in that sort of muck, and we’ve been making fun of Trump’s “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people” since the days of Corey Lewandowski, Omarosa Manigault, and Steve Bannon.
Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman writes that a conviction of Manafort would undermine Trump’s “witch hunt” argument, but . . . let’s face it, people’s opinions of Mueller are more or less determined by their opinions of Trump. There aren’t a lot of fierce Trump critics who don’t approve of Mueller, and there aren’t many enthusiastic Trump fans who think Mueller’s doing a fine job.
A few weeks ago, CBS late night host James Corden did a funny little sketch and song parody playing Mueller, and singer Shaggy played Trump — with parody lyrics to Shaggy’s song, “It Wasn’t Me,” an ode to implausible denials of cheating.
(I didn’t realize until now that Shaggy is a Marine who served in the Persian Gulf War. Thank you for your service, Shaggy.)
It ends with Corden-as-Mueller singing, “They may say I take too long, and my probe is a giant fail, but stay tuned, my investigation’s putting Donald Trump in jail,” and the sketch concludes with FBI agents taking Trump away in handcuffs.
I wonder how many people — particularly the not-tuned-in Trump haters — think that is how this is going to work. Mueller enjoyed a long and distinguished career at the FBI, taking over the bureau a week before 9/11, but he barely permeated the public consciousness in that role. Now he’s being portrayed as the ultimate no-nonsense tough guy by Robert De Niro on Saturday Night Live. How many Americans think that once Mueller issues his final report, this will be resolved quickly and neatly like a Scooby-Doo episode, with a mask being pulled off and everyone gasping, “It was Old Man Putin all along!”
For what it’s worth, back in April, the Washington Post reported that Mueller informed President Trump’s attorneys that he was a “subject” of the investigation but not a “target.” And remember that Mueller’s report is not public information — at least not at first. Mueller turns it in to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — you know, the guy that a faction of House Republicans want to impeach — and then Rosenstein has to decide what to do with it. He also has to make decisions about redactions of classified materials and grand-jury proceedings that are, traditionally, not released to the public. Mueller’s report is not likely to be short, and the decisions about what to redact are not likely to be simple or undisputed.
And all of this is just to get to the public disclosure of what Mueller found. To actually remove President Trump from office, his foes would need a majority of votes in the House — not so difficult if Democrats win control in the midterm elections — but then they would need two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to vote to remove Trump from office. Maybe some Senate Republicans would vote to impeach Trump if Mueller presents an airtight, scathing, absolutely indisputable account of criminal behavior on the part of Trump himself.
(Can we all agree that if Mueller doesn’t come back with airtight, scathing, absolutely indisputable evidence of crimes by Trump, it doesn’t exist? Does anyone want to argue that Mueller is rushing the job, or leaving stones unturned? De Niro is playing Mueller as U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard right now; I don’t want to see arguments that Mueller is really Inspector Clouseau or Mister Magoo if he disappoints liberals.)
Short of that indisputable evidence, most GOP senators are not going to go along with what their grassroots supporters see as an attempt to undo the 2016 presidential election.
In other words, short of that airtight case, an impeachment vote in the Senate is likely to fail, offering something similar to the Clinton impeachment — a case where the president’s critics are convinced he committed crimes and escaped serious consequence, and the president’s supporters are convinced he was unfairly targeted by a partisan vendetta and a prosecutor who was determined to claim a scalp.
Corden’s audience laughed and applauded as “Trump” was taken away in handcuffs — but how do liberals react when they realize that their long-awaited, elaborately fantasized dream scenario won’t happen?
We’ve been here before. From 2005 to 2008, there were plenty of furious liberal voices who believed that President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and adviser Karl Rove would all be arrested for terrible crimes. Vermont Democratic senator Patrick Leahy argued that the United States needed a post-Apartheid South Africa–style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to review the cavalcade of alleged crimes and horrors of the Bush years. In May, The New Republic ran a cover story calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the Trump years.
In the minds of many liberals, every Republican presidency ranks among history’s greatest injustices and terrors.
Mercy, Mercy Me
Former attorney general and potential 2020 presidential candidate Eric Holder weighed in on the issue of separating illegal-immigrant children from their parents at the border again, posting on Twitter an image of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the quote, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
It’s a powerful quotation from the former president, as long as you avert your eyes from the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during the Second World War or the thousands of Jewish refugees turned away and forced to return to Europe.
It’s time for government to be kind, says the attorney general whose Department of Justice oversaw the Fast and Furious scandal, subpoenaed the phone records of reporters, named reporters co-conspirators in leak cases, and approved a drone strike on a U.S. citizen. (Anwar al-Awlaki had it coming, but using military force to execute an American citizen without a trial is a pretty dangerous precedent to set.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your 2020 Fundraising Engines
Michael Scherer of the Washington Post looks at the shadow fundraising campaign among Democrats thinking of a 2020 bid and finds this revealing quote from a former Obama official:
“I would say you have to have a path to raising at least $15 [million] or $20 million in that first quarter,” said Julianna Smoot, a Democratic consultant who oversaw then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 fundraising effort. “And I think there may be four or five who will be able to do that.”
The first quarter of the 2020 cycle is March 31, 2019 . . . 245 days from now, about eight months. This means a serious Democratic candidate will need to raise about $2 million a month, starting now.
Except . . . the Democrats will have a lot of not-so-serious candidates, and for that matter, you may see some not-so-serious Republican challengers to Trump, and not-so-serious independent or third-party bids.
ADDENDA: A new poll from CBS News finds that two-thirds of Republicans support federal payments to farmers adversely affected by tariff disputes, while 78 percent of Democrats oppose them.
So if I don’t want more big-spending government entitlement programs . . . am I a Democrat now?