The appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the election puts the Trump presidency in substantially greater peril than it was in only 24 hours ago. But, remarkably enough, this did not even have to happen at all it only happened because the unhinged behavior of President Trump himself made it happen.
Yet its not clear that Trumps less-than-vise-like grip on reality permits him to even grasp this.
Trump unleashed two tweets Thursday morning responding to the news of the appointment, which was made by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein after days of deafening criticism. Trump claimed: With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic, or perhaps more appropriately, sick] appointed! He then added: This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
Separately, The Post reports that Trump is raging at his staff for failing to mitigate his stumbles. Why? Because Trump largely thinks that his recent mishaps are not substantive but simply errors of branding and public relations, according to people close to him and the White House.
But, despite Trumps suggestion that he is being victimized by a witch hunt, and that a more adept PR strategy could minimize the damage, this is a situation entirely of Trumps own making. And each of Trumps actions leading up to this moment are rooted deep in Trumps autocratic and authoritarian impulses; his total contempt for basic institutional processes; and his tendency, when his sense of grievance strikes, to slip into a delusional belief that he can overwhelm the institutional independence of his persecutors the way he might steamroll someone in a business deal.
Lets trace the basic arc of this whole story. The special counsel might not be happening if Trump had not abruptly fired former FBI director James B. Comey. The reporting indicates that Trump was driven to do this out of grievance-laden rage at Comey for failing to make the Russia probe disappear (Comey isnt supposed to do that at Trumps behest, and firing him isnt going to do it either). So this was rooted in crazy, and didnt have to happen.
More to the point, the manner in which Trump fired Comey led directly to the special counsel. Trump had made the decision and then instructed Rosenstein to produce the bogus rationale for it (Comeys botched handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe). Trump then blithely conceded on national television that the real reason was Comeys handling of the Russia probe. He was either unaware that this might be a problem, or didnt care, because, well, you can take the rule of law and shove it. All this unleashed a tirade of criticism arguing that Rosenstein, having helped provide a cover story for Trump (which Trump himself then blew up), is too compromised to oversee the continuing FBI probe. This surely helped bring about the special counsels appointment and Trump authored it.
After that, Comey associates retaliated by leaking word that Trump had demanded Comey pledge his loyalty at a private dinner in January. And after that, Comey associates leaked word of a memo in which Comey asserted that Trump had tried to persuade him to quash the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynns Russia ties. To be fair, we dont know if either of these things happened. But if they did, which is perfectly plausible, these things, too, appear rooted in Trumps autocratic contempt for basic institutional processes. And we will soon hear from Comey himself on these matters when he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump has created a problem for himself in yet another way, too: He denied asking Comey for a loyalty pledge by vaguely threatening to release alleged tapes of their conversation. Now, if Comey publicly attests to that pledge, the White House will be forced to produce these tapes or admit they dont exist, and its very likely that neither of those outcomes would turn out well for Trump.
The point is not just that Trumps actions are entirely to blame for the appointment of the special counsel. Its also that there are no indications that Trump even understands this. And on top of that, these actions themselves which simply did not have to happen will now likely be probed by the special counsel, too.
* SPECIAL COUNSELS PROBE COULD INCLUDE OBSTRUCTION: Rosensteins order appointing the special counsel says he will look at any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. The Lawfare blog explains what this really means:
In other words, the special counsel may well be looking at what Trump might have done to interfere with the FBIs investigation the firing of Comey, as well as the alleged demand for Comeys loyalty and insistence that he shut down the Flynn probe. All these potentially rise to obstruction of justice. And a special counsel is now probing them.
* TRUMP WANTED TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST SPECIAL COUNSEL: The New York Times recounts what happened when Trump was told that a special counsel had been appointed to examine the Russia affair:
* TRUMP CAMPAIGN HAD UNDISCLOSED CONTACTS WITH RUSSIANS: Reuters scoops:
The calls were about mending ties between the two countries and dont show collusion, but this may increase pressure for a fuller accounting of interactions with Russia around the election.
* ISRAELI OFFICIALS FUMING ABOUT TRUMP INTEL LEAK: The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials are trying to assess the damage done by Trumps sharing of classified information with the Russians, which came from Israel:
The source is seen as valuable in providing information about Islamic State plots, and the question is whether the source will be compromised in some way. But remember, Trump is tough on terror!
* KOCH BROTHERS GIVE TRUMP BACKUP ON TAX REFORM: USA Today reports that the powerful political network run by billionaire Charles Koch is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to help push Trumps tax reform plan through Congress:
The Kochs once viewed Trump as some kind of ideological betrayer of conservatism, but these days, they sure do like those tax cuts Trump is pushing.
* WE NEED MORE THAN JUST A SPECIAL COUNSEL: E.J. Dionne Jr. makes an important point:
We still need an independent commission of some kind to establish the full story of Russian meddling in the election, regardless of whether there was collusion, so its findings can be shared with the public.
* VULNERABLE REPUBLICANS FED UP WITH TRUMP: The Washington Examiner reports that vulnerable House Republicans are now deeply worried that Trumps antics will drag them down:
Yeah, well believe Republicans are ready to distance themselves from Trump when we see it actually happen.