It’s hard to imagine Trump’s enemies scripting a better reaction from the president to the Russia story than his ham-handed attempts to tamp it down. With a limited understanding of the workings of government and of Washington politics, Trump didn’t realize that an investigation in a highly charged political environment is like quicksand; the more you fight it, the deeper you sink. More press coverage. More witnesses to be called. Yet more investigation.
Trump has flailed his way into the appointment of a special counsel and a press corps whipped up into a near-Watergate-level frenzy. Now, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians or not. If Democrats take the House with anything like a comfortable majority, they may well impeach him based on an obstruction case.
It’s possible that Trump’s campaign actually had nefarious dealings with the Russians, and Trump is trying to cover it up. All this theory lacks at the moment is any real evidence. For now, it looks as though Trump’s handling of the Russia story is his reaction to the inaugural crowd-size controversy last January writ large — a lashing out at a perceived insult that he believes diminishes him and his achievement. Foolish? Yes. Immature? Uh-huh. Criminal? No.
Regardless, there’s no unspooling the damage of the past few weeks. An administration never wants a special-counsel investigation. The potential upside of the appointment of Robert Mueller, though, is that it will force a professionalization of the administration’s scandal management, and perhaps — although one doesn’t want to get too carried away — a muzzling of Trump on the controversy.