The president knows that his supporters, and most Americans, only understand in broad strokes the events in question, and so he has been quick to seize on every minor allegation or kerfuffle, like the text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, or the partisan affiliation of members of Mueller’s investigative team, as a way of sowing doubt and confusion. President Trump has tweeted about Strzok and Page alone more than 30 times, and as always he has had more or less an open goal to kick into. A team of media lackeys has studiously moved the goalposts from the pre-election mantra of “I have nothing to do with Russia” to “Hillary colluded” then to “Everyone colludes” and now to a place where an obstruction charge will be dismissed with a wave of the hand, an incoherent tweet, and a threat of retaliation.
The president believes that Whitaker is this strategy’s coup de grâce. If the play was to get rid of Mueller, it would have been done ages ago. Mueller was, instead, allowed to spend the last 18 months conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Russia charges and any ancillary criminal behavior, a probe that has swept up Trumpworld figures like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and, if rumors are true, even the president’s eldest son. That means that the threat to the Mueller investigation is not that the report will be quashed or buried — that is almost inconceivable. It is impunity. The president has gambled, so far correctly, that his congressional allies have galloped so far away from decency and propriety that they will tolerate almost any kind of revelation. And make no mistake — whatever is in the Mueller report is likely to be explosive. Mueller’s team has spent countless hours with people like the president’s former lawyer-turned-Democratic-cheerleader Michael Cohen and former White House counsel Don McGahn. Whatever they know, he knows.