The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Coming Trump-Mueller Collision

On his podcast yesterday, National Review editor Rich Lowry asked the percentage chance that President Trump will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Michael Brendan Dougherty put it at 200 percent, Charlie Cooke was 50 percent, and Rich put it at 70 percent or higher.

Those odds must be a little higher this morning.

President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.

The search for potential conflicts is wide-ranging. It includes scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates, investigators’ past clients and Mr. Mueller’s relationship with James B. Comey, whose firing as F.B.I. director is part of the special counsel’s investigation.

The effort to investigate the investigators is another sign of a looming showdown between Mr. Trump and Mr. Mueller, who has assembled a team of high-powered prosecutors and agents to examine whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers aided Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.

You only do this much preparation to discredit an investigator if you think it’s likely he will find something disparaging. If there’s this much simmering animosity between the White House and Mueller’s investigative team already, how likely is it that the man who fired James Comey will resist the impulse to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller? And if Mueller refuses, will Trump fire Rosenstein?

Mueller himself doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to be leading a partisan witch-hunt; he was, at least until this assignment, widely respected on both sides of the aisle and regarded as a straight shooter. But the gripes about some of the investigators working underneath him are at least a little less outlandish:

For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.

To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”

Those Justice Department rules are convenient for federal prosecutors eager to build relationships with officeholders and with political ambitions. Back in 2012, I pulled all the donation records for the 93 U.S. Attorneys and found that 46 had donated a cumulative $235,651 to President Obama, the DNC, and Democratic candidates since January 1, 2007. Not one had donated to any Republican candidate, which isn’t all that surprising, because the president selects the U.S. Attorneys. Ironically, several of the donors gave more than the legal maximum and had their run-over sums returned to them.

Back then, Hans A. von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and formerly a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told me, “I don’t have a problem with political donations from U.S. Attorneys, because these positions are ultimately political appointments. However, any time a U.S. Attorney’s office gets a case where the target is someone they’ve given funds to, clearly and obviously that attorney needs to recuse himself and hand over the reins.”

How about when you’ve donated to the political opponent of the subject of your investigation?

Can Congressional Republicans Save Themselves?

The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch concurs with my assessment that a failure to reform Obamacare at all will leave right-leaning voters wondering what the point of having a Republican Party is.

When it came time for their votes to actually mean something, to fulfill promises repeatedly made to voters, Republicans balked.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promises to keep working on health care. But every day spent on the issue is time not spent on tax reform, immigration and all the other issues the GOP promised voters. The party seems so deeply divided that one wonders how its members will be able to accomplish any major legislation. National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote, “You can’t save a party from itself.” He’s right. And if the GOP flatlines in 2018, it will have only itself to blame.

Just floating an idea . . .  what Congressional Republicans passed malpractice tort reform? Even if the Democrats in the Senate filibustered it, the GOP could at least argue that they tried to enact a change that would make health care less expensive . . .  and they would have a stronger argument about the need to replace Democratic Senate incumbents.

In National Spotlight, Kansas City Chiefs Can’t Contain O.J. Simpson

For one brief period on Thursday afternoon, we went back to the 1990s.

The good news is that at age 70, former football star, convicted felon, and Totally-Not-a-Double-Murderer-He-Swears O.J. Simpson is less likely to represent a physical threat to anyone else. This is good, because he is likely to be walking the streets on parole this autumn.

The bad news is that once again we saw shockingly implausible claims made on his behalf in a legal proceeding, and those who sit in judgment of him just shrugged it off.

“I’ve basically spent a conflict-free life. I’m not a guy that ever got into fights on the street with the public and everybody,” Simpson told the parole board.

Are you kidding me? Even if we accept the jury’s decision on the charges of double murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, let’s take a look at that history of violence before the arrest for murder charges:

The reports say that when police arrived at Simpson’s North Rockingham Avenue house Jan. 1, 1989, they saw Nicole Simpson running out of some bushes, bruised and scratched.

“He’s going to kill me, he’s going to kill me,” she cried while running toward the officers, one of them wrote. “She kept saying: ‘You never do anything about him. You talk to him and then leave.’”

During a fight after a New Year’s Eve party at the house, Simpson had punched and kicked his wife and pulled her hair and screamed, “I’ll kill you!” according to the documents. He had slapped her so hard, one police report said, that a handprint was left on her neck.

Four months later, when Simpson pleaded no contest to spousal battery charges, Municipal Judge Ronald Schoenberg overruled prosecutors’ requests that he serve a month in jail because of the severity of the beating and undergo an intensive yearlong treatment program for men who batter their wives.

Instead, according to the court documents and interviews with prosecutors Thursday, Simpson received no jail time and was allowed to pick his own psychiatrist and receive counseling over the phone, which prosecutors said was unprecedented.

Then the 911 call from Nicole Brown Simpson in October 1993:

911: Okay. You just want him to leave?

NS: My door. He broke the whole back door in.

911: And then he left and he came back?

NS: He came and he practically knocked my upstairs door down but he pounded it and he screamed and hollered and I tried to get him out of the bedroom because the kids are sleeping in there.

Then Simpson lost the civil suit about the wrongful deaths of Goldman and his ex-wife. And then he was convicted of kidnapping and robbery.

This may be only the second most shocking legal decision involving O.J. Simpson, but let’s face it, that top one is a high bar to clear.

ADDENDA: Another edition of the pop culture podcast will land today, examining why R. Kelly is the celebrity most likely to be surrounded by salacious accusations and rumors for the rest of his life, why Game of Thrones fans need to switch to decaf, the national tragedy of robot suicides, the asinine suggestion that the new Christopher Nolan World War II drama Dunkirk is somehow insufficiently diverse, and whether Chicagoans can be persuaded to put ketchup on hot dogs by simply renaming it “Chicago Dog Sauce.”

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