Is Plan B to go on “Hannity” and make a bunch of damaging admissions on his boss’s behalf?
Because that seems to have been the Plan B for Stormygate.
Plan B for Russiagate will probably involve Trump tweeting angrily for a few days and then doing nothing.
Trump and his lawyers are trying to set up the milestone on Thursday as a turning point in their campaign to end Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, said Tuesday in an interview. While he isn’t threatening specific actions, Giuliani said they haven’t ruled out additional steps if Mueller doesn’t heed their calls.
“We are going to try as best we can to put the message out there that it has been a year, there has been no evidence presented of collusion or obstruction, and it is about time for them to end the investigation,” Giuliani said. “We don’t want to signal our action if this doesn’t work — we are going to hope they listen to us — but obviously we have a Plan B and C.”
Assuming he’s not just blowing smoke to try to intimidate Mueller (spoiler: he is), what might be a workable “Plan B”? Trump’s only options, really, are ordering Mueller’s firing or blowing up the probe by pardoning everyone involved, and those come with unspoken time constraints. There’s been chatter lately about Mueller “going dark” for the midterms if he doesn’t produce a report soon, at least on the obstruction question, but congressional Republicans are going to want Trump to “go dark” too as their fortunes improve on the generic ballot. The GOP’s mantra for the president will be “no sudden moves”: Let voters marinate in the good economic news with nothing to distract them. If Trump nukes Mueller, it’ll upend the midterm and probably not in a good way. His polling took a hit last May after he canned Comey and only fully recovered within the past month. Firing Mueller would be an order of magnitude more wrenching politically.
Here’s an outside-the-box Plan B: Imagine Trump announces on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment, that he intends to dismiss the Special Counsel — but not immediately. Say, in 120 days. The probe’s gone on too long, he’ll say, it’s interfering with state business, a competent prosecutor should have gathered enough evidence by now to have formed a judgment on probable cause, etc etc. But, lest he be accused of trying to obstruct the probe, he’s going to be a sport and give Mueller an additional four months to wrap up his work on his own terms. He gets 16 months to produce whatever he’s going to produce. If he’s done by then, great; if not, he’ll have to transfer the prosecutions of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates back to the DOJ and close down the rest of his operations.
I wonder how the public would greet the delayed firing of Mueller. The idea of Trump canning him out of the blue is outrageous because it would reek of obstruction of justice. Trump feared that Mueller was on the verge of uncovering something hugely incriminating, his critics would theorize, so he nuked the probe. Obstruction doesn’t get any clearer. If Trump gives him a window to finish up, though, that argument is harder. Mueller would still have time to keep digging; Trump wouldn’t have given him an extension if he thought Mueller had real dirt on him. It’d still be obstruction, but the more persuasive Trump can be in framing his opposition to the probe in terms of how it’s hurting the *country*, i.e. as a distraction to the executive branch, rather than hurting him personally, the more palatable it’ll be to voters. A grace period for Mueller to finish up would help with that framing.
Although where would that leave Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions? Would they announce in advance their intention to resign if Trump followed through by ordering them to fire Mueller? What if other DOJ officials announced their intention to quit too? Trump’s problem with a “delayed firing” is that his bluff would absolutely be called and he’d have no choice but to follow through for the sake of his own prestige. If you’re going to give a deadline as a momentous as this, you have to be utterly committed to enforcing it or you’ll look like a joke. But in this case, enforcing it could mean half the Justice Department walking out.
By the way, Paul Manafort lost his motion to dismiss Mueller’s charges against him today. He argued that Mueller exceeded his mandate as Special Counsel by indicting him for things that had nothing to do with collusion. The charges are close enough, said the court, citing the fact that Mueller was given authority to investigate any matters that arise “directly” from the basics of the Russia investigation. That’s a broad mandate, now judicially affirmed. Gotta be on POTUS’s mind!