With any other president, you wouldn’t regard a statement about his views as authoritative unless it came from the White House press secretary or possibly the chief of staff, delivered during the daily briefing or a press conference.
With Trump, his press secretary and chief of staff seem not to know what his position will be hour by hour. If you want an authoritative sense of what the president’s thinking, Sean Hannity rambling on the president’s favorite TV show is the equivalent of Moses descending Mt. Sinai with the tablets. Trump even promoted Hannity’s appearance on Twitter this morning. Put it in the books: He’s not firing Mueller. Constitutional crisis averted.
I think. Right after he touted Hannity’s segment, he switched back to ranting about Russiagate:
A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 19, 2018
A lingering question is why Trump and his lawyers are blowing up over the Mueller probe lately. The plan from the start has been to lie low, cooperate, and trust that the special counsel will exonerate them. There have been bumps in that road, from occasional Twitter blow-ups to POTUS allegedly proposing last summer that Mueller be fired (Hannity would dismiss that as “fake news”), but Trump’s been chill about it by his own standards. Then, suddenly, Trump lawyer John Dowd told a reporter on Saturday that it might be time for Rod Rosenstein to drop the axe on Mueller and Trump himself began ranting about the investigation on Twitter. What’s going on?
Axios has a theory:
Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump’s lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey’s firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
Trey Gowdy wondered yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” why Trump’s lawyer would want to fire Mueller when he insists Trump’s innocent of collusion. The obvious answer: Because he might not be innocent of obstruction of justice or financial crimes unrelated to Russia and 2016. Collusion gets most of the headlines because it’s the most serious charge against Trump and the one which, if true, may have cost Democrats the election. But it also seems to be weaker than obstruction based on available evidence, which Axios’s report seems to confirm. I doubt Trump’s going to be impeached for firing deputies whom he had the right to fire but there’s more political risk to him potentially in those charges than there is on collusion. And he and Dowd have probably come to realize that from their conversations with Mueller, which explains the panic lately.
But why then is Hannity, Trump’s most dependable mouthpiece in big media, steering him away from that? Hasn’t Hannity declared Mueller’s probe “over” before? Didn’t he call for it to be shut down just a week ago? Now here he is sneering at the idea that Trump might, or even should, do it. How come?
Just a guess, but I wonder if Trump confidantes are themselves worried that Trump’s about to pull the trapdoor on Mueller and are trying to stage a little intervention before he does. It’d be an unholy clusterfark for his presidency; even if he isn’t removed from office, it would cause a schism in the party and almost certainly drive Trump’s job approval lower, further imperiling congressional Republicans this fall. If you were trying to get through to the president that he shouldn’t do what he’s thinking of doing, who’s the most influential person you could think of to relay that message in a forum where Trump’s sure to see it? Easy: Sean Hannity on “Fox & Friends.” There’s no one, and no one show, Trump trusts more. If it’s true that Trump’s handling of the McCabe firing is his way of testing what the party will let him get away with, it would make sense that Hannity would be recruited to deliver the “don’t do it” message. Note how Steve Doocy tees up the question for him, too: You don’t think firing Mueller would be a good idea, do you? Maybe the hosts are part of the intervention as well.
In fact, it seems strange to me that Hannity would appear in this format in the first place. How often does he do early-morning interviews with “Fox & Friends,” a show everyone knows that the president watches religiously? The fact that he popped up here to deliver his message underlines my suspicion that he was trying to influence Trump.