Back during the run up to the Iraq War, when a few members of ‘New Europe’ dissented from following France’s lead in staying out of the war, French President Jacques Chirac said, “These countries have been not very well behaved and rather reckless… They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.” Someone should have tattooed that phrase on the insides of Donald Trump’s eyelids, with an awl and a ball peen hammer, before he gave a lengthy interview to the New York Times.
First thought. Were you on drugs when you decided it was a good idea to talk to the New York Times about the Russia probe? I mean, I’m hoping the answer is yes because I can understand dangerous drugs…I’m having trouble understanding any other alternative.
Okay… to the interview.
Mueller and his investigation
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Mr. Trump was also critical of Mr. Mueller, a longtime former F.B.I. director, reprising some of his past complaints that lawyers in his office contributed money to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. He noted that he actually interviewed Mr. Mueller to replace Mr. Comey just before his appointment as special counsel.
“He was up here and he wanted the job,” Mr. Trump said. After he was named special counsel, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
I have to agree with him in principle. I think Justice did a crappy job of drawing up Mueller’s charter. They should have put him in a very specific box, to wit, Russia. And they should have required him to refer all non-collusion wrong-doing to Justice. Likewise, they should have kept all prosecution decisions inside Justice. Every time one of these creatures is created and set free we see they are impossible to stop. Both Ken Starr and Patrick Fitzgerald were totally out of control and drunk with power. There is no evidence that Mueller won’t follow that path.
Having said that, those are not the facts. Mueller has a license to investigate anything that tickles his fancy. My personal take is that the political climate won’t take firing him all that well. So what was gained by this bluster? Not much.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
This is correct but it is also sort of disingenuous. There was little doubt that there was a real danger of an independent counsel being appointed before Sessions was nominated. Surely the subject had to have been discussed and DOJ guidelines are rather unambiguous about when a Justice official must recuse himself. One of those reasons includes serving on the campaign of someone under investigation. It sort of stretches the imagination to think of anyone any president would appoint as their first attorney general who wouldn’t have to recuse themselves if a special counsel was appointed. Typically that first term AG has a close personal or political relationship with the president. Sessions’ recusal was never really in doubt if the trigger was pulled on a special counsel (I mean that metaphorically).
Even if Trump feels put out over the recusal and feels the blame is totally with Sessions, there is no reason to unload on a guy who is doing a pretty good job (other than the civil asset forfeiture nonsense that he is so enamored with) in a very difficult job and environment. That is bad form and it doesn’t build a lot of trust or confidence among Sessions’ subordinates that he’s long for the job. And that creates another set of problems.
In the interview, Mr. Trump said he believes Mr. Comey told him about the dossier to implicitly make clear he had something to hold over the president. “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump said. As leverage? “Yeah, I think so,’’ Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”
The president dismissed the assertions in the dossier: “When he brought it to me, I said this is really, made-up junk. I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about man, this is such a phony deal.”
I think he has Comey’s number on this. Far from the Eagle Scout that he likes to see himself portrayed as, Comey has a track record, going back to his sandbagging of Alberto Gonzalez in the infamous Ashcroft-in-the-hospital episode, as a brutal bureaucratic knife-fighter. His leaking of memos, and, indeed his mishandling of classified information, paint a picture of a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Where Trump has been criticized for asking Comey for loyalty, I agree that Comey’s actions seem aimed at making a point to Trump that he was untouchable.
Be that as it may, what is gained from this baring of his soul to the nation? Nothing except the chance to get something off his chest.
The president also expressed discontent with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a former federal prosecutor from Baltimore. When Mr. Sessions recused himself, the president said he was irritated to learn where his deputy was from. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” he said of the predominately Democratic city.
He complained that Mr. Rosenstein had in effect been on both sides when it came to Mr. Comey. The deputy attorney general recommended Mr. Comey be fired but then appointed Mr. Mueller, who may be investigating whether the dismissal was an obstruction of justice. “Well, that’s a conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said. “Do you know how many conflicts of interests there are?”
There is some rewriting of history here. We know fairly conclusively that Comey’s fate was sealed before Rosenstein wrote his memo. I thought at the time that any US Attorney who was appointed by Bush and was able to survive under Obama in a state like Maryland, which means he had the support of at least the senior Maryland Senator if not that of both, was probably not the wartime consigliere needed in the Justice Department of what was clearly going to be an embattled administration.
Again, having said that, if he had that feeling at the time, why didn’t he act on it? There is no good answer for that. And because of that Rosenstein was his nominee and he owns him and he should either shut up and support the man or fire him.
It is this kind of lack of self-discipline and the absence of the ability to self-edit that is infuriating. It damages Trump and, worse than that, it damages the ability of his administration to get things done. Often one is left with the conclusion that Trump does this kind of stuff in a calculated way. He can’t bear the thought of things running smooth because then the media is not talking about him incessantly and if they aren’t talking about him, they are talking about someone else and his self-worth is damaged.