Updated 4 hours ago
A witch hunt. That’s what President Donald Trump called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate potential Russian political ties in the United States. At least that was Trump’s opinion at the time.
But there’s another way to view the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Russians and Trump’s campaign.
It is actually a blessing, at least in the short term. The Trump White House has appeared in chaos recently with new allegations almost daily of miscues, missteps and blunderings based on alleged memos leaked by unidentified law-enforcement sources currently in office and recently departed.
I warned that Trump’s peremptory firing of James Comey and the shifting story line would thoroughly alienate Comey and his colleagues “who are real pros at the Washington game of assassination by leak.”
Republicans wanted Comey to square previous testimony under oath that no one had ever sought to interfere in his Russia investigation with an anonymously leaked memo saying Trump had asked him to drop the Russia investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Democrats, who not so long ago wanted Comey’s head for unelecting Hillary Clinton, will try to lionize the career prosecutor as a martyr in their drive to delegitimize this White House.
Here’s where the Mueller appointment is good news for Trump: Mueller has basically unlimited powers now, able to take this investigation in any and all directions. He is universally respected as a straight-shooter in Washington, a rare breed in that swamp.
He can, for instance, lean on Congress to curb its own investigations as complicating the main one. For Trump, this would helpfully stanch the daily drip-drip of bad revelations, some of which may even be true.
No publicity hound
Unlike almost any member of Congress — or a previous special prosecutor or two — Mueller is no publicity hound. We are unlikely to see him exiting a building, surrounded by cameras and boom mics, announcing some scrap of damning evidence he just uncovered.
Mueller can take as long as he wants. In fact, he may now be the most powerful person in D.C. And until Mueller’s final report, Sean Spicer or any of the other sacrificial subs sent out to this media mob can simply say “no comment.” The issue is in Mueller’s hands.
If Mueller’s final report finds no chargeable crimes, as Trump predicts, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will go into mourning. And the Russia incident would be as dead as many of Vladimir Putin’s opponents.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is, if there’s anything criminal there, Mueller will find it and he will report it. If it involves former Trump campaign aides, there’ll be a passing stink. If somehow Mueller’s evidence trail leads to Trump despite all his bluster and denials, then we could be looking at President Pence.
What’s also quite striking in the hysterical media coverage of the usurper Trump is what didn’t happen before. Remember Attorney General Eric Holder’s Fast and Furious gun-running operation into Mexico? It was botched. Drug gangs got the guns and killed a border agent.
Holder stonewalled congressional investigators. He got censured. No special counsel.
Remember Internal Revenue Service agents stalling conservative Obama opponents seeking nonprofit status in 2011-12? Other applicants sailed through. Not the ones who might have made trouble for Obama’s re-election. Obama professed outrage, and later denied there was a “smidgen” of proof. No special counsel.
Remember Benghazi, where four Americans died because Hillary Clinton’s State Department was unprepared? Without interviewing Clinton, a hand-picked Accountability Review Board found no one person at fault, just a few systemic problems. No special counsel.
Or Clinton’s email scandal, in which she routinely mishandled national security documents on an unsecured private server in violation of government regulations. Comey chose not to prosecute because he said he couldn’t prove intent through years of such violations.
For those of us in flyover country, it all appears like the wily operators of Washington and the in-house media chroniclers there choosing which scandals to snuff and which to fuel. That institutional coziness and congressional ineptitude by both parties partly explain the voter disgust that elected the angriest candidate as president. Never mind his qualifications.
The anger and suspicions of that plurality simmer to this day largely unnoticed back there. Hopefully, the probity of Mueller’s probe will prove convincing whichever way it goes.
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.