Firing Mueller: Living in a Bubble is Dangerous

Remember on Election Day when Princeton professor and poll analyst Sam Wang gave Hillary Clinton a 93 percent chance of winning and pegged the most probable Electoral College results as Clinton 323, Trump 215? It’s easy to forget just how unlikely Trump’s victory was for folks who were living in the evidence-based bubble. Wang was on the extreme bullishness side, but even the more cautious Nate Silver put the odds at Clinton 71.6 percent, Trump 28.4 percent. I’ve spent much of my time since Election Day examining the actual results in an effort to discover how the expectations could have been so wrong and what the new shape of the electorate means for the left’s future prospects of regaining power. But I haven’t forgotten how Clinton’s persistent polling lead and good odds for victory created a false sense of optimism that brought with it an inevitable and regrettable level of complacency.

And that’s what I’m reminded of when I see Republicans repeating like a mantra that Donald Trump was correct when he said he wasn’t under investigation by the FBI.

It’s true that there is some evidence-based rationale for making this claim. FBI director James Comey testified last week that he made private assurances to the president that he wasn’t personally under investigation, just as Trump had claimed. But this seemingly good news is of extremely limited utility for the president and his supporters.

For one thing, imagine the CEO of a company that is under investigation for violating sanctions and money laundering having the gall to reassure investors by arguing that his company and several of his top executives have been the subject of FISA warrants, a multiagency federal investigation and grand jury proceedings but he personally isn’t a named subject.

If that example doesn’t quite make clear the absurdity of being optimistic about Trump’s legal vulnerability, then just focus on the fact that the FBI counterintelligence unit would not want to create a manila envelope on a presidential candidate in a presidential election year for quite obvious reasons. They would not want to be accused of trying to influence the election. Trump’s campaign and his business have been the subject of the counterintelligence investigation from the beginning.

For another thing, Comey’s reassurances that Trump wasn’t a named subject of the investigation may have been true at one time (however little that actually meant), but certainly is no longer true. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into possible obstruction of justice, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that he’ll want to find a motive. Why is the president so intent on shutting down this investigation? That’s the most important question now. So, it’s quite jarring to see people like Ann Coulter relying on an obsolete talking point to justify the firing of Robert Mueller.

Of course, Coulter and Newt Gingrich and other folks who are out and about trying to set a predicate for firing Mueller are sophisticated enough to understand most if not all of what I’ve just written. The president’s extreme peril is what is motivating them.

Their behavior precisely mirrors the behavior described in the following:

Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, “This guy is going to get you,” according to a person familiar with Kasowitz’s account.

Trump fired Bharara in order to protect himself. If he fires Mueller, it will be (a hopefully misguided) effort to do the same again. It certainly won’t be because Trump isn’t under investigation.

Yet, even if the folks who are presently trashing Bob Mueller in an effort to provide some kind of cover for firing him know the game they’re playing, there are plenty of folks who are as sincerely convinced of their sincerity and accuracy as the left was in the projections of Sam Wang and Nate Silver.

It’s true that Wang and Silver were making a good faith effort to be right which can’t be said of Trump’s surrogates, but what the two situations share is their ability to create a false sense of security.

Obviously, the left was wrong to think Clinton’s campaign was coasting to victory, but Trump’s supporters could be equally wrong if they think Trump can fire Mueller because the president really isn’t under investigation anyway, and so “why not?”

In both cases, the spin and the narrative had a reckoning day. Elections aren’t ultimately about winning the 24-hour news cycle or the battle of perceptions. They’re about winning either the most votes or the Electoral College. Likewise, saying Trump isn’t under investigation won’t protect him and it won’t justify firing Mueller or make it possible for Trump to obstruct the inquiry by destroying it.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.