In case you missed it, everything just got worse. Much worse.
In the latest round of stories fresh from the Times v. Post blockbuster exchange, The New York Times is reporting that Trump is looking for dirt on special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team while The Washington Post is reporting that Trump’s lawyers are looking for ways to undercut Mueller’s investigation while also studying the issue of pardons for Trump’s team, Trump’s family and possibly even Trump himself.
In other words, Trump is looking to stop Mueller’s investigation at all costs, up to and including firing him, and, failing that, Trump wants to know how or if the presidential get-out-of-jail-free card works.
Let me see if I can put it even more plainly: If you trust the reporting of the best that #fakenews America has to offer, or even if you can’t bring yourself to go that far, you simply trust Trump’s own rambling, slam-the-entire-Justice-Department interview with The Times, we may be on the verge of a constitutional crisis. I’m a bigly believer in the innocent-until-proven-guilty concept, but it’s fair to ask who looks into pardoning himself if he has done nothing wrong?
After all, not even Nixon tried to pardon himself. But Nixon once did say this, which I assume is now the working model for the Trump administration: “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Trump has already used several variations on that theme. Sadly, Sean Spicer will no longer be at the White House to say it for him, but a new director of communications has already appointed Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will gladly take her turn.
What we know is that we shouldn’t be surprised by whatever Trump tries to do now, unless, that is, you think Congress is finally ready to stand up to Trump in anything resembling a meaningful way.
As Chuck Todd and the gang at NBC’s First Read wrote, it’s time for every Republican member of Congress to have to answer the question: What would you do if Trump does fire Mueller and/or hands out pardons to members of his family? If Republicans want to contain Trump — it would take only three in the Senate — they should lay out the consequences for him. I’m sure Cory Gardner understands that. I’m sure, even now, he’s tweeting his typical hot take, probably a pronouncement on either how terrible North Korea is or how beautiful Colorado is.
This might-be crisis was apparently set off by the news that Mueller’s Russia probe is looking into Trump’s past business dealings, including any involving Russia, and that he would probably want to look at several years’ worth of Trump tax returns. You may ask: What could Trump possibly be hiding? Trump is asking: What the hell are they trying to do to me?
It’s hard to know where to begin this chapter of the long-running disaster story — my God, has it been really only six months? —but we might as well start with the Don Jr. email dump, which followed a series of New York Times articles about his undisclosed meeting with the “Russian government lawyer” (who it now turns out, via Reuters, was also a lawyer for Russia’s largest spy agency).
The Times stories on the meeting, over three days, were accompanied by the ever-changing Don Jr. explanations — the first of which, a large lie by omission, was reportedly approved by Trump the elder — and the ever-changing and ever-more-murky list of characters for the meeting in which Don Jr. brought along then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and then-and-now Trump consigliere, son-in-law Jared Kushner.
But it was when The Times informed Don Jr. that it had the emails and was prepared to release them that the younger Trump released the entire chain, which provided clearly-worded proof, for any who wanted to see, that those in the Trump White House were meeting with Russian representatives in order to find dirt on Hillary Clinton.
You can draw a straight line from there to Trump’s explosive 50-minute interview with the failing New York Times. The interview apparently began as an off-the-record session with three of the Times’ White House reporters and turned into, well, it’s hard to describe what it turned into. Anyone who cares about the state of America and the presidency should read it for him/herself.
For a few moments, some of us got hung up on Trump’s wide array of false claims (his Poland speech was called by critics the best speech a president ever made on foreign soil) and miscues (while in France, he got his Napoleons mixed up, and I don’t mean the pastries) and his astonishing ignorance of healthcare (he thinks a 21-year-old can buy healthcare coverage for $12 a year, apparently confusing cheap health insurance with cheap life insurance).
But the real story was obviously his attacks on old friend and AG Jeff Sessions for doing the right thing and recusing himself from the Russia probe, on former-Russia-probe-leader and FBI chief Jim Comey as a liar, on Mueller for doing his job by leading the Russia probe, on Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, for being from Baltimore (he’s actually from Philly and lives in Bethesda, Md., but that’s another story).
White House aides were stunned by the interview. Trump hadn’t told them he was doing it, just as he hadn’t told anyone he would have a second, undisclosed, no-American-translator-on-hand meeting with Vladimir Putin. They couldn’t be stunned by the latest leaks, though, which must have come from White House aides or from Trump lawyers.
Anyone confused as to why Trump chose to slam Sessions on the day he was supposed to be trying to rescue Trumpcare — I admit I was one of them — must now understand. Millions of vulnerable Americans losing their health coverage is one thing. The possibility of Trump losing the ability keep his tax returns hidden is quite another.
Photo by Ryan J. Reilly e via Flickr: Creative Commons