Can you guess who wrote this op-ed at The Hill? Consider the elements of the argument: a “deep state” with unchecked power, a conspiracy to undermine the election, a special prosecutor turned into unleashed inquisitor using the courts to threaten family members. The author could be any of a number of people on the Right — Judge Andrew Napolitano, Sean Hannity, or dozens of less-well-known commentators, some or all come right out of TrumpWorld.
Surprise! This comes from Mark Penn, longtime campaign and political advisor to both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Penn argues that Mueller and his special counsel probe is a threat not to Donald Trump, but “all presidents and parties,” and must be defeated rather than terminated:
The “deep state” is in a deep state of desperation. With little time left before the Justice Department inspector general’s report becomes public, and with special counsel Robert Mueller having failed to bring down Donald Trump after a year of trying, they know a reckoning is coming. …
This process must now be stopped, preferably long before a vote in the Senate. Rather than a fair, limited and impartial investigation, the Mueller investigation became a partisan, open-ended inquisition that, by its precedent, is a threat to all those who ever want to participate in a national campaign or an administration again.
Its prosecutions have all been principally to pressure witnesses with unrelated charges and threats to family, or just for a public relations effect, like the indictment of Russian internet trolls. Unfortunately, just like the Doomsday Machine in “Dr. Strangelove” that was supposed to save the world but instead destroys it, the Mueller investigation comes with no “off” switch: You can’t fire Mueller. He needs to be defeated, like Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton.
This column does not come across as a dispassionate analysis of the risks inherent in a special-counsel probe. It reads as an activist manifesto, taking aim square at Mueller himself in a way that even Trump’s surrogates have refrained from using. Penn even raises the specter of Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the 1950s in defending Trump and his campaign, at the very least a provocative parallel. He concludes that stopping Mueller is “about cleaning out and reforming the deep state so that our intelligence operations are never used against opposing campaigns without the firmest of evidence.”
That sounds pretty close to an explicit accusation — but aimed at whom? Hillary Clinton, for whom he worked for years? Or Barack Obama, to whom Penn lost in 2008’s primaries? Both, maybe?
Penn issues such a strong indictment that even some on the Right wonder what might be going on:
There’s a heck of a story behind this @Mark_Penn op-ed, which I’ve read 3 times now to make sure I read it right. Then I read Penn’s bio. Twice. I just don’t know what the story is. https://t.co/vf3PGUeibn
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) May 21, 2018
My hunch: He is auditioning to work for Trump and/or be the new Pat Caddell. https://t.co/Q1NGXB8H1k
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) May 21, 2018
Alternately, perhaps Penn has seen enough from inside ClintonWorld to know where these dangers lie, and no longer has any incentive to keep quiet about it. Any of these theories work in the absence of more information, and Penn can expect lots of intense speculations about his motives, especially from his former allies. Whether or not it was Penn’s intent, he’s about to get a lot of invites to Fox News and hear a lot less from MSNBC.
Former AG Michael Mukasey offers the more dispassionate argument for ending the Mueller probe. In an op-ed for USA Today, Mukasey argues that the special counsel appointment was flawed from the start, and allowing it to continue is no mere benign choice:
First, the law requires that a special counsel investigate a specified crime based on specified facts, not try to be the second coming of the Lone Ranger.
But further, the ongoing investigation saps the resources and attention of the Trump administration. If the administration cannot function, the burden of this constantly shifting investigation will give rise to a narrative that any failure was due to the Mueller diversion — that the Trump administration was stabbed in the back. That is potentially more damaging to our politics than any salaciousness that might be tossed up by Robert Mueller.
For both legal and political reasons, the end of this investigation is overdue.
Both arguments provide reminders why special counsel investigations are invariably bad choices and should almost never be launched at all. Congress needs to take a hard look at the enabling statute and either restrict its use or eliminate it altogether.