This doesn’t happen very often, but with all due respect, I have to disagree with my predecessor Ed Kilgore.
Rosenstein’s surprise move essentially acted as a circuit breaker, stopping what was beginning to look like Watergate on fast forward and offering a respite from an atmosphere of crisis and finger-pointing that left Trump’s GOP allies stumbling in the dark. If nothing else, Mueller’s appointment will slow everything down for months, giving an understaffed and overwhelmed administration time to act more strategically.
Ed isn’t the only one thinking along those lines. Here is Eli Lake saying pretty much the same thing:
It may not look like that from the perspective of the president. His Twitter feed is filled with eruptions about the fraudulence of the Russia investigation. But by appointing the former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate the matter, Rosenstein has quieted a crisis that was consuming Trump’s presidency…
Now Rosenstein has offered the president a reset. Trump has a chance to try to focus on foreign and domestic policy.
Let’s take a look at the bombshells that have dropped in just the last week with an eye towards answering the question of whether or not they would have occurred following the appointment of a special prosecutor.
- In a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador that was already rife with controversy, Trump shared classified information about ISIS that had been gathered by Israel.
- Associates of Comey told the New York Times about a memo he had written that detailed a meeting with Trump where he asked the former FBI director to end the investigation into the activities of Michael Flynn.
- Sources leaked several items to the press about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn: (1) prior to Trump’s inauguration, he told the transition team that he was under investigation, (2) he held regular conversations with Russian officials to set up a back channel line of communication between Putin and Trump, and (3) he stopped a military plan in Syria that Turkey opposed.
It is pretty impossible to make a case that either the meeting with the Russian foreign minister or Trump’s leaking of classified information would have been affected by the appointment of a special prosecutor. The truth is, that story got buried by subsequent news and deserved more attention than it has gotten.
It is difficult to know whether or not Comey and his associates would have gone to the New York Times with the story about his meeting with Trump if a special prosecutor had already been appointed. Perhaps it was an attempt to garner support for such a move. But I suspect that Comey already knew that was coming and was more interested in teeing up the possibility of testifying about what happened publicly at a Congressional hearing.
The leaks about Michael Flynn have all come from anonymous sources within the intelligence community. Those have been happening since Trump was inaugurated. It is difficult to know whether or not they’ll continue, given there is now going to be an investigation by a special prosecutor. But keep in mind that they happened even though there was an on-going FBI investigation. One could surmise that the motivation is to make this information public and if so, they are likely to continue.
Beyond the leaks, it is the president’s behavior and that of people in his administration that have led to the drama over the last couple of weeks. Think about the bungled attempts to explain the firing of Comey, or the same with respect to the leaking of classified information to the Russians.
Coming from someone who reviewed the record to write “100 Days – 100 Horrors,” I can attest to the fact that this administration is incapable of slowing down, acting more strategically or hitting a reset. That is why Rick Perlstein’s quote about this president is so classic: “the words ‘on purpose’ and ‘Donald Trump’ now feel like matter and antimatter; with him, it’s all impulse.”
That is precisely why I suggested that Trump is ultimately on a collision course with Republican tribalism. The appointment of a special prosecutor doesn’t change that in any substantial way.