WASHINGTON — To Donald Trump:
As one who spent nearly two years of his life as a journalist focused on Watergate, I have one piece of advice. Your best course is not to in any way disrupt or attack Robert Mueller personally as some around you undoubtedly may have counseled and no matter your own natural inclination.
The former FBI director who is conducting the investigation that has resulted in what obviously will not be the last of indictments stemming from Russian influence in your campaign for the presidency is no Archibald Cox whom Richard Nixon made the mistake of firing in the midst of the crisis that drove him from office. While Cox was a fine lawyer with excellent credentials, his reputation hardly matched that of Mueller, whose prosecutorial and investigative chops (to borrow a jazz phrase) are among the most respected of his generation…on both sides of the political aisle.
A Saturday night massacre like the one that signaled the beginning of the end for Nixon would not only bring bipartisan condemnation but most likely the introduction of the impeachment process in Congress. If you think the storm after your dismissal of Mueller’s FBI successor, James Comey, was bad, a similar decision applied to Mueller would seem like a category five hurricane, one that would overwhelm even your most ardent supporters and your ability to twitter your way out of it. Recent polls show the public favoring Mueller two to one.
The door to the potential premature end of your tenure in the Oval Office has been opened more than just a crack with the charges against your former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, your deputy in the campaign Rick Gates and, George Popadopopoulos, a campaign adviser. The only way of avoiding what could be the inevitable consequence is to keep a cool head and to exercise restraint, two things for which you are not noted. In fact, word has spread that you are angry with your son in law Jared Kushner for voluntarily turning over documents to Mueller.
Trying to build a backfire by yelling about Hillary Clinton and the emails and complaining about your lack of control of the Justice Department raises a specter of drastic action that could bring about a constitutional crisis.
It’s already too late to deny Russia’s influence one way or another and while the seriousness of it still has to be identified, there seems little doubt now that it will be considering the blizzard of “fake” (to use a word favored by you) news devised and paid for by the Russians for the American Internet market. Millions of Americans passed on Russia’s slickly written allegations and suggestions as gospel. And this was but one facet of the Russian efforts to help you win.
The question now becomes how close to you, the eventual nominee, did this effort come to you. personally. It seems relatively near in that one of your sons, Donald Jr., and Kushner seem to have been prominent in a questionable meeting in Trump Tower campaign headquarters.
Again, to reference Watergate “what did you know and when did you know it?” Is there a smoking gun somewhere that you may have missed? And if so was it only in passing? Were you too busy to really deal with it, to take notice of the possible illegality of the situation if you even considered such a notion. You were after all seemingly quite friendly with the top of the Russian food chain, including Vladimir Putin. Actually, you seemed to express more than a little admiration for the Russian.
Be that as it may, don’t expect this to be over quickly if history is any indication. Even though Mueller wasted little time in picking off Manafort who was vulnerable anyway because of his past business dealings with pro-Russian interests in the Ukraine. They tend to drag on a bit.
Here’s another word to the wise. You might consider not only ignoring Stephen K. Bannon, your chief strategist officially in the White House and still a top adviser now that he has left, about an aggressive attack on Mueller and company. Like you, Bannon, wasn’t around during Watergate and may have missed some of the pitfalls of this kind of investigation. They can get kind of tricky.
Too much bluster is not such a good thing. Take the phrase, “I am not a crook,” for instance. Oh, I forgot Hillary is the crook.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.