For sheer chutzpah, there’s no beating Donald Trump. First he declares himself totally exonerated when special counsel Robert Mueller’s report apparently stopped well short of that, and now he’s demanding a counter-investigation of those involved with the probe.
Thus he’s using his attorney general’s summary of an as-yet-unreleased report to attack his shadowy supposed persecutors, who “have done some very, very evil things . . . some treasonous things,” including having “lied to Congress.”
The exoneration claim comes after a probe that revealed just what a group of scoundrels and scapegraces Candidate Trump had gathered around him. Just to review, Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, is in prison on financial fraud charges. Rick Gates, another top campaign operative, has pleaded out to charges related to money laundering and fraud, as well as lying to the FBI. Michael Flynn, a top foreign policy campaign aide and his brief-lived national security adviser, has admitted to lying to the FBI about contact with Russia. So too has George Papadopoulos, a lesser campaign aide. Trump associate Roger Stone is charged with lying, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, has copped to a range of charges, including lying to Congress and paying hush money to two women Trump had affairs with, in order to keep them quiet during the campaign. Prison impends in May.
That’s exoneration, Trump style.
You stagger out of a sea of sleaze and declare yourself Mr. Clean.
What is accurate to say at this juncture is that Robert Mueller has apparently cleared Trump and his campaign of engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Russian operatives. And that Attorney General William Barr, taking advantage of Mueller’s decision not to offer a judgment about whether the president obstructed justice, has declared there was no such obstruction. Little surprise that Barr would come down that way; Trump picked him after Barr submitted a memo maintaining that a president couldn’t be prosecuted on obstruction charges for acts within his discretionary power, regardless of the intent behind those actions.
So how should Democrats treat the Mueller report, if it indeed says what Barr maintains? As a firm no when it comes to impeachment, but not as foreclosing further inquiry about Trump and his possible business interests in, and financial ties with, Russia.
Which is to say, far differently from the cynical and shameless way Trump and his allies treated special counsel Mueller and, before that, former FBI director James Comey. For months, Trump charged that Mueller was leading a “witch hunt,” an attempted “take-down” of his administration by the “Deep State,” something echoed by a number of Trumpian hacks and lackeys. Like, say, Sean Hannity, who warned his audience that Mueller was “out to get Trump at any cost,” leading “an all hands on deck effort to totally malign and if possible impeach the president of the United States.”
Now that Mueller’s report has (apparently) come down in a way that Trump finds congenial, the president is changing his tune from that absurd, democracy-eroding rhetoric. Asked on Monday if he thought Mueller had acted honorably, Trump answered, “Yes, he did.”
What? How could that be? How could someone leading a witch hunt determined to find collusion, regardless of whether any occurred, have concluded in Trump’s favor on that question?
That, of course, is exactly the way Trump and the Trumpian media treated Comey as well. When the FBI first began investigating Hillary Clinton, Comey was a fearless, straight-arrow lawman. When the FBI director decided not to charge her, he was wrongly protecting her. When Comey reopened the investigation in the final days of the campaign, he was finally doing the right thing. When the FBI decided the new material didn’t warrant prosecution, Comey was again part of a rigged system protecting Clinton.
There is an apology owed here, to be sure.
It should be from Trump and the cross-eyed conspiratorialists to one Robert Swan Mueller III.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.