It finally happened. After two years of unrelenting attacks, orders to lawyers, and reams of hysterical tweets, President Donald Trump has achieved his most cherished goal:
He fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in concert with much of the jaded Washington establishment, including Democrats.
The cause: Mueller was insufficiently entertaining. What with the long face and the curt answers, Mueller, in The New York Times’ verdict, was “the blockbuster that wasn’t.” Democrats joined in, clucking about his age and how much time had passed since the 74-year-old Mueller had last appeared before them. They stopped short of a referral to a memory center.
The reaction is telling. By hyping the hearings to the sky and then treating Mueller’s testimony as the failed finale of Game of Thrones, Democrats fell into playing by Trump’s rules.
They capitulated to the Celebrity Apprentice president’s view of governing: That if something doesn’t succeed on television, you’re cancelled. It’s why Trump is playing two roles, president and press secretary, providing the glossy, entertaining version of whatever this person called the president’s just done. He then watches himself describing himself, interrupted occasionally by lunch or a rally he can be almost certain ratings-hungry cable news will carry. Before bed, he’ll watch Fox to bask in their four-star reviews and get his script for the next day.
It’s a game Democrats shouldn’t touch. Trump commands the ultimate stage set at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a shameless hucksterism and willingness to lie for no reason other than to tell a better story. By competing with Trump, while lacking his razzle or dazzle, they were let down by their own hearings. They couldn’t see that Mueller confirmed enough high crimes and misdemeanors to impeach a dozen presidents. Only one new Democrat came out immediately afterward for impeachment. By contrast, Trump was so confident he’d escaped the noose once again that he moved on quickly to crowing about the Supreme Court OKing his wall, attacking civil rights hero Rep. Elijah Cummings for representing a veritable s-hole, and play-acting a rescue of A$AP Rocky from the Swedes.
By Friday afternoon, Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler had recovered from Wednesday's fainting spell enough to announce something resembling impeachment. This after Nadler wasted three months since the April 18 report came out waiting for Mueller to do their job for them. Democrats blamed public confusion over the report on the fictional rendering of its contents by Attorney General William Barr. But they added to that confusion by failing to highlight the motherlode that Mueller published.
Look for more confusion. Each member who took to the podium after Nadler’s announcement had a different idea of what he’d just said. It’s not impeachment, despite a word salad which included that word, along with, interchangeably, “inquiry” and “investigation.” One clue that it’s not close is that nothing happens without Pelosi’s approval and she said again Friday that the time isn’t right for it—for “sophisticated” but otherwise unspecified reasons.
That leaves us with something less than impeachment but more than oversight which means that the House is as mistaken about their powers under Article 1 of the Constitution as Trump is about his being unlimited under Article 2.
The magic words are “articles of impeachment,” which are the set of charges drafted against a public official which, if approved by the House, end with a vote in the Senate. If Democrats have learned anything from the hash they’ve made of holding Trump accountable so far, it is to get out ahead of the Senate’s inevitable, craven acquittal. It heightens the need to defeat him in November.
When Mueller returned in the afternoon to talk about Russia and the underlying crime, he was like Benjamin Button having aged backwards, sharper and more expansive as he warned that Russia not only heeded Trump’s request for help in 2016 but was planning on providing it again “as we sit here.”
Coming from Mueller, that was like taking center stage and chewing the scenery. Breaking with his usual reserve got everyone’s attention, even the Republicans who’d been lecturing him that morning that Trump’s obstruction wasn’t obstruction because he knew he was innocent and was just trying to protect himself from the unfairness of it all. Imagine a legal system with that at its heart.
What Trump is planning to do is a much bigger threat to the country than what the House confronted in past impeachments of second-term presidents. Nixon’s Watergate break-in and Clinton lying about Monica happened in the past; Trump’s potential treason is in the future.
Trump’s hung a Help Wanted sign. He told ABC on camera that if offered help in 2020 by a foreign country he would take it and maybe, later, if he felt like it, notify the FBI.
If there wasn’t a conspiracy last time, there is one now between Trump and the Senate. On Friday, McConnell again killed legislation to harden our voting machines largely because Republicans who’ve sold their souls to Trump are ever more beholden to him.
There are swampy reasons on the side: Russian interference helped Republicans last time, it probably will again; voting machine companies contribute disproportionately to Republicans; Sen. Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to jeopardize a $200 million aluminum smelting plant locating in eastern Kentucky after sanctions were lifted on oligarch Oleg Deripaska's company.
The consequences of ignoring the warning are dire. At a minimum, any compromise of the 2020 election gives Trump the opening, should he lose, to challenge the result. It’s hard to imagine the chaos that would ensue and the damage it would cause to America’s standing in the world.
You can’t blame Mueller—the lifelong public servant awarded a Bronze Star for returning to the battlefield to drag one of his men to safety in Vietnam while Trump was nursing his bone spurs in Manhattan—for failing to create a viral moment. He had promised before appearing that he would let the report should speak for itself.
The lifelong Republican sat there for six hours, conducting himself by the oath of office he’d taken, and completed his final mission with honor. His work is done. Democrats, if you’re listening, yours is not. Impeachment is risky but not as risky as letting Trump distract us with his theatrics while imperiling democracy. See to your duty: He’s a clear and present danger. His show must not go on.