Was there some overreaction to the disclosure that Special Counsel Robert Mueller – looking into the possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians – has put together a grand jury? Yes, probably.
But the step of forming such a jury, which will have subpoena power and the right to get documents and testimony from a broad range of people, does signal that Mueller is moving along in his investigation. And it shows the Ivy League-educated former Marine who served as FBI director for 12 years is not distracted by the bombast from the Trump White House. For his part, the president is facing a test unlike any other in his cushioned life.
Mueller is a serious man who could not care less that Trump keeps holding political-type rallies where he basks in the cheers of his faithful base (as he did recently in West Virginia), and that the president keeps hinting he’d like for his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to go because Sessions rightly recognized he had a conflict of interest with the Russia investigation after his work for the Trump campaign. And it’s clear Trump would like to fire Mueller, but Mueller’s not going to back away if he thinks any information is pertinent to his probe – and that could be a great big deal for Trump, who has made much of being worth $10 billion and disputed any notion that he’s got financial obligations in Russia.
What would happen if Trump did fire the special counsel? It’s likely several other Justice Department officials would resign, and a firestorm would descend on the White House. Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate to protect Mueller from an unwarranted firing, one of them co-sponsored by North Carolina’s Sen. Thom Tillis. This is a sign that the tolerance is diminishing for other elected Republicans of the president’s inclination to blast away at his perceived enemies on Twitter.
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Such a habit is distasteful and undignified when it involves only political enemies; it is risky and disrespectful when it involves people such as a special counsel empowered to use any and all resources at his disposal to investigate those in the highest levels of government.
Preposterously, the president also has indicated that he will not tolerate Mueller looking into his personal finances. But Trump’s finances, yes, even his elusive tax returns, might well be pertinent to the investigation, perhaps even to Trump’s advantage, if such records showed – for example – that Trump has no financial connections to Russian business people or the country itself. One would think if that’s the case that the president would want such information disclosed.
In Robert Mueller, President Trump is not up against a political enemy (Mueller is a Republican, by the way), or a person with a demonstrated ideology or one who has shown anything other than a promise to get to the truth. No president or citizen should fear that or resist it.