President Trump reacted, sadly but predictably, with anger and petulance to the appointment of Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, as a special counsel to direct the investigation of possible ties between Russians and the 2016 campaign for president, including connections between Russians and Trump.
Trump could not have reacted in a worse way. He pronounced the entire matter a “witch hunt” and acted as if he were a martyr, even going to far as to imply there were worse scandals in the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign.
And Mueller may indeed be the worst news Trump could have gotten. The former director is profoundly respected on both sides of the political aisle, and his 10-year term as director was extended by President Obama. He was appointed by the Justice Department, Trump’s Justice Department, but Mueller will have a broad charge and the right to prosecute those he charges.
He is a very serious man. And should Trump’s associates try to interfere or to quash this investigation, Mueller will not stand for it and neither will Republicans in Congress, whose support of Trump seems to be softening by the day. For his part, Trump seems in a desperate state, one day saying he doesn’t fear an investigation, the next day blasting it. He invited top Russian diplomats for an Oval Office visit as the controversy was deepening and roiling.
The situation seemed to reach the theater of the absurd. Trump seems to be doing everything he can to undermine his own administration, and Sen. John McCain was the first Republican to compare the controversy to Watergate.
Sadly, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are trying to protect partisan interests, hardly showing profiles in courage. It’s a sad contrast with the fortitude Republicans showed during the scandal that drove Richard Nixon from the White House.
But after weeks of turmoil – a stock market dive this week reflected that a Wall Street once anticipating friendly deregulation from Trump was shaken – the appointment of Mueller should bolster the public’s confidence that the truth will come out, even if that truth is painful to a desperate, angry, inexperienced president who seems surrounded by sycophants and family members in his closest circle.
The appointment also has to be good news for credible Trump administration officials such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis. McMaster, who saved a reluctant Trump’s bacon after the Michael Flynn disaster, was brought into the Russian fray by Trump earlier this week, and chose his words carefully. Mattis, a lifelong soldier with a sterling reputation, is a person of unshakable integrity who’s not about to play to Trump’s ego. These men put duty, honor and country before the president, as they should.
The ride is about to get rougher for Donald Trump, a man whose life has been gilded in many ways. The first thing he must do is face this reality head on – and not try to distract public opinion with erratic tweets and outrageous charges about his predecessor. A reckoning is at hand.