It all makes sense after WaPo’s bombshell tonight. The whole “fire Mueller!” thing seemed to sprout out of nothing over the weekend — Newt Gingrich started talking it up, then Jay Sekulow reminded the public that Trump had the right to can the special counsel, then Trump superfans like Hannity and Coulter began chattering about it, and on and on. It smelled like a coordinated messaging effort. And maybe it was. The most obvious explanation in hindsight is that the White House found out recently what WaPo’s reporters have now discovered, namely, that the president is at last under federal investigation. Not for colluding with Russia but for possibly having unlawfully obstructed an investigation into finding out who did collude with Russia. Hence the sudden frenzy over whether to cashier the special counsel. Do they let this go on or order a nuclear strike on Mueller to end the probe? The latter could damage Trump’s presidency beyond repair. The former, if it produced an indictment, could mean impeachment and removal.
That also probably explains why this news is suddenly being leaked. It’s an insurance policy for Mueller. If Trump had fired him before the news came out, skeptics would claim that Trump was never really under investigation. That’s BS, they’d say, cooked up by Mueller and his defenders after the fact to make Trump’s decision look extra shady, a desperate act of obstruction to save his own skin. By leaking this now, Team Mueller ensures that they can’t make that argument later. Firing Mueller after this would look more suspicious than firing Comey did: Comey, after all, had told Trump several times that he wasn’t a target of the Russia probe, which is why Trump is claiming “vindication” from his testimony. Mueller, however, is now broadcasting that Trump is the target of an obstruction probe. If he pulls the plug on the special counsel later, it’ll be a straight analogy to Nixon — the president attempting to short-circuit an investigation that’s placed him in criminal jeopardy. Firing Mueller would have been a major political crisis before. Doing it now would be cataclysmic, and the Muellerites know it. This leak is their job security.
The irony, though, is that it strengthens the “fire Mueller!” case. Mueller was supposed to be the low-key, by-the-book law-enforcement legend who’d conduct a quiet investigation with no dirty media tricks to gratuitously embarrass the president. And now here we are, with his team — presumably — leaking a sensational claim that the president’s being probed for obstruction. If you were already suspicious that Mueller can’t be trusted to be impartial because of his friendship with Comey, here’s more fuel for the fire. Comey leaked a memo to turn up the political heat on Trump, which ultimately led to Mueller’s appointment. Now the Muellerites are leaking their own dirt to turn the heat up further. Trump, I’m sure, has never wanted to fire Mueller more than he does right now. And he’s never had less political leverage to do it.
By the way, while we’re all caught up in highly partisan legal shenanigans over Russiagate, the Senate has been focused on highly bipartisan economic sanctions on Russia — a major development that’s going to tie Trump’s hands tight on trying to reach a diplomatic reset with Putin:
The measure lawmakers voted on Wednesday would give Congress the chance to block any efforts by the Trump administration — or any other president, for that matter — to roll back sanctions without the consent of Congress.
It would also codify existing sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.
The measure would then apply new sanctions against Russia for its activities in Syria, where the Kremlin is supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and for its alleged meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
The vote was 97 to 2, waaaay more than is needed for a veto override in case Trump refuses to sign the bill. If it’s that lopsided in the Senate, chances are it’ll be that lopsided in the House too. Trump’s losing his leverage to bring Putin to the bargaining table, no doubt partly because Russiagate has become enough of a political liability that Republicans are looking to get tough on Moscow to compensate.