Donald Trump returned to morning Twitter today, after a brief respite on Wednesday, and to his morning-Twitter style. In doing so, he yet again contradicted his own White House communication strategy, contradicting the anodyne statement that went out after the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russian-interference probe. This morning, he complained of being the target of “the greatest single witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and definitely Bill Clinton might disagree on that last point, worthily or not. (For that matter, so might Al Smith.) As for the peccadilloes of Hillary Clinton, Trump repeatedly promised during the election to have a special counsel appointed to review that case. He certainly could ask Jeff Sessions, who was also a critic of the way James Comey handled the Clinton e-mail investigation, to appoint a special counsel now.
Contrast this with the carefully crafted response that came out of the White House last night despite the short notice on Mueller’s appointment, which seemed aimed at making sure that it projected confidence from Trump that this would exonerate him fully:
According to the senior official with knowledge of the situation, Trump explained how the administration should respond and told his aides that it was an opportunity to focus on their agenda. The advisers then drafted a statement which was refined by the president before it was released.
It read, in part, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
The official indicated that, in some ways, the staff feels united by Mueller’s appointment and that the inquiry allows for an easier response to questions about Russia — staff can simply comment that it is under investigation.
That was the smart move — take the news with cool aplomb, and use the opening to refocus on the legislative agenda, which the last two weeks of breaking-news bombs has stuck on the siderails. Make it look like this would work to Trump’s advantage, and even better, keep him from making it look like the move is aimed at the White House at all, let alone the Oval Office. Of all the people deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could have chosen for special counsel, Mueller was probably the best — experienced and non-partisan, not a grandstander or a self-promoter, and with no political ambitions that could make this investigation into a platform for a future run for office. Assuming Mueller’s investigation clears Trump, it would be a gold-plated exoneration, making this a great opportunity for the administration … as long as it has nothing to hide.
Instead, that comms strategy went out the window, or at least out the app this morning. In its place is a wildly exaggerated claim of victimhood that will perhaps galvanize his base, but make everyone else wonder what has Trump so worried. It’s yet another reminder that when it comes to strategic communications, Trump is often his own worst enemy, especially on Twitter.
That’s not to say that Rosenstein’s decision was the optimal choice, or that Trump had to personally endorse it, either. All he had to do was not talk about it. As Andrew McCarthy wrote yesterday, it may not be the wisest choice, but it’s a fait accompli now, and Mueller gives the White House reason to at least keep quiet about it:
The FBI (and other intelligence agencies) have been investigating the Russia counterintelligence matter for nearly a year, and a great deal of work has already been done on it. I imagine there is a chance it could be wrapped up within a few months — Mueller is a quick study and a hard worker, it won’t take him long to get up to speed.
What can really slow these investigations down is the prosecution of ancillary criminal cases. If there are none, things can be wrapped up in short order. But if people are indicted, it could go on for years. Mueller is not a Lawrence Walsh type. He will not want to make a career out of this. At the same time, if serious criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, he won’t turn a blind eye. …
I remain a skeptic of special prosecutors or special counsels. Democrats are so Trump-deranged that I suspect, despite Mueller’s solid reputation, they will claim the fix is in if impeachment does not appear to be on the horizon in short order. But most people will give Mueller a chance. And he deserves that.
He deserves it from Trump, too, before implying that Mueller is any part of a witch hunt.
Update: Originally, the second tweet went out just a few minutes before the first, but with the word “counsel” misspelled. Trump later deleted the original tweet and retweeted it with the word spelled correctly.