Can Trump out­last Mueller?

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM - eu­gen­er­obin­son@washpost.com

Pres­i­dent Trump be­lieves he is be­ing per­se­cuted, and that is a fright­en­ingly dan­ger­ous mind­set for a man with such vast power. Amid a week of dizzy­ing de­vel­op­ments on mul­ti­ple fronts, Trump gave a grad­u­a­tion speech Wed­nes­day at the U.S. Coast Guard Acad­emy por­tray­ing him­self as a vic­tim, un­fairly be­sieged by those who would de­stroy him.

“No politi­cian in his­tory, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more un­fairly,” Trump said. That is an ab­surd claim that can­not be taken se­ri­ously, of course, but it does give a sense of how the pres­i­dent feels about the scru­tiny he faces.

Hours later, the Jus­tice De­part­ment an­nounced that former FBI di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III had been named as spe­cial coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion and any pos­si­ble col­lu­sion by per­sons con­nected with the Trump cam­paign. To my great sur­prise, the White House is­sued a state­ment that can only be de­scribed as calm, mea­sured and ap­pro­pri­ate.

“As I have stated many times, a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion will con­firm what we al­ready know — there was no col­lu­sion be­tween my cam­paign and any for­eign en­tity,” it said. “I look for­ward to this mat­ter con­clud­ing quickly. In the mean­time, I will never stop fight­ing for the peo­ple and the is­sues that mat­ter most to the fu­ture of our coun­try.”

If there was col­lu­sion by the Trump cam­paign, I be­lieve it will be found.

The tone of the White House re­ac­tion was widely praised on the ca­ble news shows that Trump is said to watch ob­ses­sively. But the ef­fect, if any, of such pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment was evanes­cent. It lasted only un­til Trump took to Twit­ter on Thurs­day morn­ing.

“This is the sin­gle great­est witch hunt of a politi­cian in Amer­i­can his­tory!” he tweeted. A cou­ple of hours later, he had more to get off his chest: “With all of the il­le­gal acts that took place in the Clin­ton cam­paign & Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion, there was never a spe­cial coun­sel ap­pointed!”

So that’s how Trump re­ally took the news about Mueller’s ap­point­ment: not well at all. The idea that he would be treated poorly, com­pared with the way other pres­i­dents were treated, seems to trig­ger an atavis­tic re­sponse. It is as if he went to a fancy restau­rant and was shown to a ta­ble in a cramped cor­ner, near the kitchen.

Now, with all of this weigh­ing on him and gnaw­ing at him, he leaves on his first for­eign trip. The itin­er­ary in­cludes stops in the Mid­dle East, the world’s most ex­plo­sive re­gion. Hav­ing called dur­ing the cam­paign for an out­right ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States, Trump will give a speech that ad­vis­ers have billed as an ad­dress to the Mus­lim world. He will visit Jerusalem, where ge­og­ra­phy equals the­ol­ogy and ev­ery false step has con­se­quences. And by all ac­counts, the pres­i­dent gets cranky when he can’t fly to one of his homes at night and sleep in one of his own beds. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

The news this week has, in­deed, felt like a bar­rage. On Mon­day, The Post re­ported that Trump, dur­ing an Oval Of­fice meet­ing with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov and Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak, re­vealed highly clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. On Tues­day, the New York Times re­ported that James B. Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI di­rec­tor last week, kept con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous writ­ten ac­counts of his con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent — and that, in one of those en­coun­ters, Trump asked Comey to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, who ad­vised Trump dur­ing the cam­paign and whose Rus­sia ties are be­ing probed.

In two days, that was enough news for a month. But then on Wed­nes­day came the Mueller ap­point­ment.

I share in the con­fi­dence ex­pressed by Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike that Mueller will do a fair and thor­ough job — and that FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors, re­port­edly an­gry at the way Trump treated Comey, will look un­der ev­ery sin­gle rock. If there was col­lu­sion by the Trump cam­paign, I be­lieve it will be found. But even if clear and con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence of such wrong­do­ing ex­ists, it will take time to un­earth.

Mean­while, Trump re­mains pres­i­dent. He has ac­cess to the na­tion’s most closely held se­crets but can­not be trusted to safe­guard them. He runs the White House like a fam­ily busi­ness, valu­ing loy­alty over ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­per­tise. He has no real grasp of pol­icy, for­eign or do­mes­tic. He feels him­self un­der at­tack. Four months into his term, he brags to White House vis­i­tors about how he won the elec­tion. And there’s not an­other one un­til 2020.

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