How could we forget? Well, Donald Trump has been relatively quiet about the Robert Mueller probe lately, perhaps because of his work with his legal team in answering Mueller’s questions in writing. This morning, however, Trump let his anger out for an early morning walk in the Twitter neighborhood:
Actually, Mueller worked for Obama for four-plus years, and only two by dint of an Obama decision. George W. Bush appointed Mueller as director of the FBI in mid-2001 (and started one week before 9/11, in fact), but Obama extended it by two years after his ten-year term expired. That decision was met by unanimous acclaim in the Senate, with the only concern raised — briefly — by Chuck Grassley over the precedent it would set rather than any issue with Mueller’s performance. Between his eventual departure in September 2013 and his June 2017 appointment as special counsel, Mueller worked in the private sector at Stanford, the law firm WilmerHale, and then Booz Allen Hamilton — not for Obama.
Most media outlets wondered what prompted the sudden reversion to offense, but no one’s taking it seriously. Politico just recaps the Mueller-Trump relationship while noting the “revive[d] personal attacks.” The New York Times points out Trump’s being “relatively quiet about the investigation” of late, and also that his legal team had reportedly urged him to quit attacking Mueller on Twitter.
The catalyst for this morning’s eruption is likely the attacks on his choice for acting AG, Matt Whitaker. That’s the Washington Post’s take as well:
Trump’s rant, in a pair of morning tweets, came a week after the installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general, a move many Democrats have said appears designed to curtail Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.
Trump angrily dismissed a reporter’s question about that notion last week and said he had not spoken to Whitaker about the Russia probe before naming him to replace ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Many of Trump’s complaints in Thursday’s tweets were familiar, but they took on heightened significance with Whitaker now overseeing Mueller’s probe, which is also examining whether Trump has obstructed justice.
Is Whitaker actually overseeing the probe, though? So far that’s still Rod Rosenstein, with Whitaker overseeing Rosenstein. Courts will likely weigh in on whether Whitaker can oversee anything, but at least there’s been no indication of a transfer of that portfolio to this point.
All of this is likely much ado about nothing, anyway. There is a slim chance that Mueller will pull a smoking gun out of his report, but it’s far more likely that he’ll have little impact on Trump in the end. Columbia professor Lincoln Mitchell argues for Reuters that even drawing lines between Trump and the Kremlin won’t result in any action:
Trump has succeeded in making the Mueller investigation so partisan an issue that whatever Mueller has found, or will find in the future, will have little effect other than reinforcing existing views among voters and lawmakers. It is unlikely that anything, even evidence of criminal activity, beyond the campaign finance violations Cohen cited in connection with Trump, will change this.
Trump has never been a very popular president, but his support has been quite stable in the face of revelations that one might expect to influence public opinion. From the time he was inaugurated through the recent midterms, according to Gallup’s weekly polling, his popularity was always between 35 and47 percent, with fluctuations that were not particularly correlated to Russia-related revelations. By comparison, for a similar period, Obama’s ranged from 44 and69 percent and Bush’s from 51 and 90 percent. Trump’s numbers suggest that while he is never going to be well-liked by most Americans, there is a floor of about 35 percent that is not going to abandon him.
That base of 35 percent is significant because it roughly translates into more than 35 Republican senators whose voters like Trump and will continue to back him. The presence of those senators and their constituents’ unflappable support for the president is the guarantor that he will not be removed from office by Congress. Regardless of what Mueller finds, even if the Democratic House votes to impeach Trump, there seems to be zero chance that two-thirds of the Senate will cast the decisive vote required by the Constitution.
I’d guess, based on the process-crimes and old-news indictments generated by the Mueller probe thus far, that his final report won’t even be as significant as Mitchell presumes. He’s correct, though, in his assessment of what it would take to impeach and remove Trump at this point, in part because of Trump’s relentless campaign to cast the probe as a partisan “witch hunt.” If all Mueller has is a dumb decision by Don Jr and Jared Kushner to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya at the Trump Tower and campaign-finance violations over payoffs to former paramours, it won’t go much of anywhere in the Senate — and maybe not even an impeachment in the House.