Conservative editor and pundit David Frum put it perfectly on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night. Donald Trump’s biggest problem with the Robert Mueller investigation is time. And the clock may well be ticking down faster than he thinks.
Frum laid it out very clearly and logically. Trump needs mental help if he honestly thinks that the Trump-Russia probe is going to be over by the time the big apple drops in New York. This may drag out past the midterm elections next year. But it isn’t just a matter of how long Mueller keeps digging, it’s what he’s doing while he’s digging.
A lot of people had expected Mueller’s investigation to be digging for months, if not years, and then present a report to the applicable committees in congress. Little to noting would be made public during the investigation since Mueller is well known for operating in a black hole. But instead, Mueller has already made several critical revelations, mainly multiple indictments against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his partner Rick Gates, as well as guilty please from George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn. If you watched the network news programs, everybody seemed to be expecting Mueller to complete the investigation before moving to try to obtain indictments.
This is where Trump’s time problem comes in. Trump screwed up. If he was going to move to fire Mueller, the time to do that would have been right at the beginning. For months, the public looked at the investigation with a rather blase attitude, it was interesting, but not really defined or rooted in known facts. Now, a majority of the public not only wants to see the investigation through to its conclusion, but a majority think that top echelon Trump advisers, if not Trump himself had improper dealings with the Russians. Trump made the same mistake with Jim Comey. The time to fire him would have been immediately, when damaging information was at a minimum. Instead, he waited until Comey had real, hard data that was damaging to Trump, and bungled the firing with clumsy attempts at misdirection as to the real reason he was giving Comey the ax. And in doing so, he ended up with Mueller instead, with a more wide ranging mandate and much wider powers than Comey had.
But here’s why time is so critical. If Trump had fired Mueller in the first weeks, Democrats would have screamed bloody murder about it, but they would have screamed alone. The Republicans would have claimed there was nothing there, and tried to ride it out. Now, there is a there there, and it is harder for the GOP to stonewall against not only the Democrats, but public pressure as well. If Trump were to fire Mueller tomorrow, you can bet your last shekel that the Democrats wold make passing a law reintroducing the independent Special Prosecutor, and appointing Mueller to the post in order to pass another continuing resolution. And the GOP won’t have much choice but to go along.
What makes time so critical are the indictments. You can try to stop an investigation, but indictments bring a kind of finality to them. Papadopoulos and Flynn have already pled guilty in court. Barring superceding indictments brought on by one or both of them violating their plea agreements, there is nothing left but sentencing. They’re done, and Trump can’t stop what they will say and do from her eon out. Firing Mueller will not stop those processes, they’re in the justice system now, not the special prosecutors domain. The same thing with Manafort and Gates, they have already had their first court hearings, and are chugging along towards trial.
Right now, Robert Mueller has two grand juries in session, one in Washington DC, and one in northern Virginia. Both are getting witness testimony. But is the testimony for Mueller to gather information under oath, or in preparation for more indictments? And if it’s for the latter, whi is he looking to indict? If Mueller suddenly comes out with surprise indictments of Kushner, or Donnie Jr, Even if he fires Mueller then, the indictments are filed, and a court date will be set for a preliminary hearing. They belong to the Justice Department at that point, and God help Sessions if he tries to pull an unsealed indictment to stop prosecution. Besides, technically he shouldn’t be able to do it, he has recused himself from all things Russian.
Pardons may not be a viable answer either. If Trump starts pardoning family members or others to obstruct justice, the howls will intensify for his impeachment for abuse of power. And if he starts pardoning before November of next year, the GOP is really and for truly boned. They will have to choose between pissing off rabid Trump supporters, or risk an angry swell of previously apathetic voters turning out in a tidal wave to sweep them away in protest.
And one more problem for His Lowness. Trump really is a moron. In tipping his hand, by bellowing about red lines, and teasing the possibility of firing Mueller, he has allowed him to prepare for that eventuality. This is exactly why the Flynn plea agreement forces Flynn to cooperate with and testify for state and local prosecutors. Even if Trump pardons Kushner, or Donnie Jr, or even himself, that pardon won’t mean a bowl of piss Jack Daniels in a state prosecution. And if he pardons them before the trial even takes place, then it is likely that he will have circumvented any “double jeopardy” laws, since they were never tried in the first place.
What started out as a snowball now appears to have turned into an avalanche that can bury the entire Trump village. And any action that Trump takes may end up being nothing more than a fresh blizzard to fuel the wall coming down at them. The whole damn bunch of them might be about to find out what “being in over your head” literally means.