Jonathan Turley: Let's face it, we're one witness away from a total legal and political clusterfark on Russiagate

A leftover from this morning that’s worth your time, as Turley makes a shrewd point here. The question that’s forever being asked with Russiagate is whether Mueller has anything on collusion pointing to the president himself. Probably not, for the simple reason that it’s unimaginable that none of the witnesses would have whispered to some media outlet about it by now. The entire Trump operation leaks like a sieve, but somehow no one’s willing to share the most explosive leak of all? C’mon. Even Michael Cohen, who’s now starting to show his cards to reporters and has every reason to make a deal with the DOJ, isn’t alleging anything explosive. So far his big revelation is that Trump knew in advance that Don Jr was planning to meet with the Russians. That’s a serious charge but unproven, and almost certainly not criminal. So where’s the big gotcha?

There’s always obstruction of justice, of course. But without evidence of an underlying crime to motivate that obstruction, it’ll be very, very hard to gain momentum for impeachment in Congress. (Especially with Team Trump planning to write its own Nunes-esque report exonerating the president of everything.) Which is to say, if you had to bet right now, you’d bet that Mueller’s report will be full of admonitions of Trump for not running a tighter campaign ship and warning his deputies that they shouldn’t be talking to Russians — but without anything that’ll imperil his presidency.

That’s where Turley comes in, though. It may be that Mueller won’t blow up Trump’s presidency, but what if he does something that causes Trump himself to blow it up? We’re focused on the wrong thing in asking whether Mueller has anything on the president, Turley argues. What we should be focused on is whether he has anything on Don Jr, as that’s the surest way to make POTUS wig out short of an indictment of the president himself. If Mueller comes after the family, Trump’s reaction will be completely unpredictable. He may fire Rosenstein, maybe Mueller too. The obstruction case will immediately turn nuclear. House Republicans will melt down, not knowing how to react with the country in an uproar and Republican voters warning them not to act or else they’ll stay home in November.

All it would take to put us in that position, says Turley, is one more witness. All Mueller might need to pin something conspiracy-related on Junior is a campaign insider like Rick Gates, who’s already cooperating with him, claiming that, say, Don Jr told him he was going to talk to Wikileaks about releasing the hacked Democratic emails at opportune moments during the campaign. What would Mueller do then? What would Trump do?

My hunch is that if it all went down that way, Trump would blink. Too many people he trusts have told him not to fire Mueller for him to risk doing it. For all his alpha-male bravado, the guy hates confrontation: If he gave Rosenstein the order to fire Mueller, he would have to know going in that Rosenstein will refuse and Trump will then have to fire him. Then, in all probability, the next in line at the DOJ will refuse and Trump will have to fire *him.* Maybe the next guy too. He might see people around him start to resign as well. (Although if you’re skeptical of that in light of the fact that no one in the West Wing has yet found reason to quit in protest over anything Trump’s said or done, I sympathize.) Ryan and McConnell would go berserk. Although most Republican voters will support him in anything he wants to do, a meaningful minority would also disapprove. Trump would be isolated with only the hardest of hardcore MAGA-ites behind him.

So what he would do, I think, is leave Rosenstein and Mueller alone and start handing out pardons instead. Not just to Don Jr either. He’d likely seize the occasion to pardon Kushner, Gates, maybe Flynn, maybe even Manafort, all in one fell swoop. There’s nothing Mueller could do except try to argue that the pardons are themselves further evidence of intent to obstruct, but there’s zero chance House Republicans are going to impeach the president for using a constitutional power, however dubiously, which virtually everyone acknowledges is plenary. How much of a popular backlash would there be to Trump getting crazy with the pardon cheez whiz? Some, for sure — to the extent it’s possible for Democratic enthusiasm to vote this fall to get any higher, that would do it. It could be an electoral disaster for the GOP. But it wouldn’t be the particular type of disaster scenario that Turley’s imagining. I don’t think that’s in the cards.