Donald Trump lost control of his destiny Wednesday with the appointment of a Justice Department special counsel. But the setback for Trump may only be temporary—and if it is temporary, that could be disastrous.
The order creating the new special counsel’s office run by Robert Mueller, a serious and determined former FBI director, is much too narrow. It authorizes Mueller only to pursue “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
The order was signed by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who Trump got to issue a letter justifying the removal of James Comey as FBI director that Trump himself has admitted was cover for what he planned all along. Rosenstein appears to be a dedicated public servant, but only the latest of many prosecutors Trump has outwitted or compromised.
With apologies to Saturday Night Live, in this political farce Rosenstein has shown himself to be a Not Ready for Prime Time Player.
A much broader investigation is required, one that reaches to all his business activities involving foreign money, especially his involvement with Russians and Russian dirty money back to 1990.
Jim Henry, the investigative economist who has exposed money laundering for four decades and now writes about Trump’s Russian money connections for my nonprofit DCReport news service, thinks the order is so narrow it may be intended to sink the inquiry.
“Of all the smoke pouring out of Trump’s basement, the dirtiest, darkest smoke comes from his involvement in money laundering and financial fraud, including keeping from his investors when he knew about the organized crime involvements of his close associates,” Henry says.
Henry points to financial deals from Panama to Manhattan to Iceland to Toronto and beyond that all involve criminals and in some cases come perilously close to Vladimir Putin, the kleptocrat in Moscow whom Trump frequently praises as a great leader.
Henry notes that from a Wall Street Journal report, “we learned just this week that Trump’s leading partner in the bankrupt Trump Tower in Toronto was able to channel at least $15 million to Trump from a loan that came from a Russian bank whose executive chairman is Vladimir Putin.”
Keep that in mind the next time Trump says “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
Rosenstein has the power to expand Mueller’s investigative portfolio and may well do so if asked. The question of the moment is why start out with a constricted inquiry instead of a broad one?
Congressional Republicans especially need to understand the reasons that a much broader inquiry into Trump’s conduct is required, because if they decide it is in their interests to go after Trump and he emerges on the other side merely wounded, they will pay dearly.
Trump is a Republican of convenience. Many of his policy proposals, such as they are, defy modern GOP orthodoxy. And he has denounced Republican leaders such as Speaker Paul Ryan when he thought it was in his interest to do so, affirming that with Trump loyalty is a one-way street.
To be blunt: Unless Rosenstein’s order is broadened it may come back to haunt the nation and even put the continuation of our democracy in jeopardy.
Those are strong words, but walk with me through Trump’s conduct, history and strong and growing dictatorial tendencies to see why we should all be concerned, but especially Congressional Republicans, some of whom have begun to go public with what has been their private panic over the Trump presidency.
Trump has already signaled his supporters to not regard the constitutional process now underway as legitimate. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
The tweet followed the message he sent Wednesday to the Trump faithful, who already believe he is being undermined by our other constitutional officers and the mainstream press, groups Trump has encouraged his followers to distrust or even hate.
Read Trump’s words at the Coast Guard academy graduation ceremony in a speech full of self-praise and lacking focus on the future of these officers that is the norm for graduation addresses. “Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history,” he said, “has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
This comes after well more than a year of Trump signaling that he has little to no intention of submitting to any democratic decision he dislikes and denouncing as “bad judges” the jurists who found his executive orders fatally flawed.
During the primaries, Trump alone would not raise his right hand in a pledge to support whomever GOP voters picked as the party’s standard bearer. Later he said that he might not accept the November election results if Hillary Clinton won.
And then there is his ludicrous insistence that he drew the biggest inaugural crowd in history, the kind of fake official announcements that make us laugh or shudder when made by tin horn dictators or the likes of murderous power mongers such as Putin.
These dictatorial tendencies were demonstrated again and reinforced this week when he invited the near-dictator of Turkey to the White House. Earlier Trump was the only leader of a major democracy to call President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with praise after he narrowly won an election that moves Ankara away from more than a century of democratic secular government and toward dictatorship.
Then there is what happened after a Wednesday White House visit gave Erdoğan a Trump stamp of approval.
According to District of Columbia police, Erdogan’s security people launched an unprovoked attack on American protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence, even pushing away cops who tried to stop the violence. The attack by a foreign power’s agents on American soil against Americans drew a standard rebuke from the State Department but not one word from Trump, even though he constantly says he is busy protecting Americans from foreign violence.
Should the limited inquiry Mueller was authorized to pursue end with Trump remaining in office I expect it will bring his dictatorial tendencies more forcibly to the fore. If the inquiry ends with his removal from office, there is no prospect that Trump will behave like Richard Nixon, who showed his respect for our Constitution when he resigned in August 1974 after it became clear he had lost all support on Capitol Hill.
Nixon spent the rest of his life trying to rehabilitate his image, understandably defending his actions in Watergate, but not challenging the system of checks and balances through which he was removed and never challenging the legitimacy of our federal government.
Don’t expect that from Trump. If ousted, we can expect this petulant, immature narcissist to go on the relentless attack, a policy he advocates often including in his books The Art of the Deal and Think Big.
Remember, as a candidate Trump urged violence against some protesters at his campaign rallies. Why would he behave with less promotion of violence if forced from office or apply less violence if he remains in office?
Since the late 1960s I have reported on people and organizations, left and right, who describe the United States of America as a criminal organization, an oppressive and illegitimate power. They are a small minority for sure, but they are a minority that could be whipped into a frenzy the way Trump whipped supporters at his rallies into frenzied calls to lock up Hillary Clinton.
We need a no-holds-barred investigation. And that is not what Rod Rosenstein authorized.