Via Mediaite, Drew McCoy made me laugh by succinctly capturing the dynamic right now.
Team MAGA: Good news, Manafort indictment is not about Trump.
Also Team MAGA: Quick, pardon everyone! https://t.co/SSrZCsxoto
— Drew McCoy (@_Drew_McCoy_) October 30, 2017
Man, how we would have flayed a Democrat who encouraged Obama to shut down a DOJ probe of his campaign by raining pardons like confetti on all of the principal players. There would have been a lot of sonorous verbiage about the rule of law. As it is, I figure we’re one more indictment away from Robertson’s position becoming mainstream on the right, assuming it isn’t already. Trump’s not going to start handing out pardons for the two indictments that were revealed today: He’s in no (direct) danger from the Manafort charges, which have nothing to do with him, and George Papadopoulos wasn’t a big enough player in the campaign for Trump to be tarred by association with his collusion efforts. If Mike Flynn gets indicted, though? All bets are off.
The only redeeming virtue of Robertson’s otherwise disgraceful shpiel here is that it’s far more tactically sound than the idea of firing Mueller is. I can’t think of a single reason why Trump would do something as incendiary as that when he could achieve the same thing — more, actually — while remaining on sturdy legal ground by simply pardoning Mueller’s targets. Firing Mueller would trigger a constitutional crisis, would likely mean the resignation of Rod Rosenstein and possibly Jeff Sessions, and wouldn’t end the probe since Mueller’s successor would doubtless vow to continue it. Pardoning Manafort, Papadopoulos, and anyone else who ends up on the hook would avoid all of that angst while short-circuiting the investigation in a perfectly constitutional way. There’ll be a volcanic eruption of criticism of Trump because of it but what does he care? He’s already at 33 percent approval. He’s as low as he’s realistically likely to go. He just needs to sit back now, wait for the rest of the indictments, and then dispose of them in one fell swoop, as that’ll be less politically painful than pardoning people piecemeal.
The only reason to fire Mueller instead of pardoning the campaign cronies charged by him is because it would give the president visceral pleasure to assert his authority by eliminating an enemy. So yeah, that’s probably what he’ll end up doing.
By the way, although Manafort’s the big name who got zapped by Mueller, don’t overlook the other man named in the indictment, Rick Gates. Manafort left Trumpworld many months ago, a key reason why the White House feels okay-ish with today’s news about him. Gates, however, hung on for awhile:
Gates raised money for the campaign and worked with the RNC. He worked with Trump’s close friend Tom Barrack on the inauguration preparations. A former administration official spotted Gates at the White House several times early in the Trump administration; and he was, until March, working for a pro-Trump outside group, “America First Policies.”
In other words: Just as Manafort can’t be dismissed as a marginal figure in the campaign — something Sean Spicer absurdly tried to argue when he was press secretary — nor can the White House spin that Gates was a nobody.
“If there’s any blowback it’s going to be because Gates was not completely cut off,” a former Trump campaign official told me.
Who has more information on the White House to trade Mueller in return for leniency, Manafort or Gates?