The Defense Strategy of a Man Who Is Guilty

For a while now it has been clear that Donald Trump and his enablers have been waging war against the Department of Justice as a way to discredit or halt the Mueller investigation into whether the president’s campaign engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to influence the 2016 election. One battle in that war has been an attempt to set up Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for impeachment.

If you remember, the reason Rosenstein is in charge of the special counsel’s investigation is because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after lying about contacts with Russians during the campaign. Over the last week, Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, added another dimension to the efforts of Trump’s enablers by threatening to hold AG Sessions in contempt of Congress. He reiterated that threat last night on Sean Hannity’s show.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said on Monday that he planned to press ahead with holding Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress unless the Justice Department relented on a decision to deny sharing certain classified documents with lawmakers.

“It wasn’t a threat. It’s what’s going to happen,” Nunes declared on Monday night.

We don’t know what documents Nunes is referring to because they are classified and neither the chairman nor the attorney general can be specific about what they’re looking for. But in the end, as Martin pointed out last week, Nunes demonstrated it’s all a smokescreen because he’s not even reading the documents that have been released. This is all meant to push Rosenstein far enough to say “no” and then pull out the articles of impeachment. Now the threat has expanded to Sessions.

To get a sense of how this is all being played to Trump’s base, take a look at how Sean Hannity ranted about it last night.

Excuse me while I fail to shed any tears for Jeff Sessions. He is a racist liar, but perhaps he didn’t fully understand the depths of what it would mean to work for the world’s most prolific liar, who demands mob-like loyalty from everyone.

But Hannity’s involvement in these lies and conspiracy theories plays a crucial role in the overall strategy as described by Darren Samuelsohn. Trump and his enablers have calculated that Mueller won’t challenge the conventional thinking that a sitting president can’t be indicted. So they don’t really care about the legal case being developed against Trump, but see the real threat as impeachment, which is by nature a political process.

So long as that theory holds, Trump’s plan is to forcefully challenge Mueller in the arena he knows best — not the courtroom but the media, with a public campaign aimed at the special counsel’s credibility, especially among Republican voters and GOP members of Congress.

The groundwork is being laid to either fire Justice Department officials or dismiss Mueller’s findings based on the kind of rants we saw from Hannity last night. Notice how the language of “obstruction” has been co-opted, just as the right wingers did with “fake news.” Whether or not every viewer buys into the arguments Hannity made, that co-optation confuses the conversation and opens the way for voters to simply throw up their hands and say, “both sides do it.”

That is the plan that has been cooked up to deal with Mueller’s investigation by a group that, at minimum, includes Trump, Devin Nunes and Sean Hannity. As has been pointed out since the probe started, it is not the kind of strategy we’d see from someone who is innocent of the charges being made against them. David Rothkopf warned the president’s supporters that the penny is about to drop, just as it did on Enron back in 2001.

I would speak regularly to a very senior guy there. Finally, one day, I called him and said, “Look, you have to get in front of this. If you did something wrong admit it and that will give you the credibility you need to deny the other stuff, the unfair accusations.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Then, the guy said, in a very quiet voice, “Look…here’s the problem: We did it. We did it all.” It was clear his focus had shifted. He realized he was personally in trouble. He realized the company was going down.

The rest is history. But I’ll never forget that moment when the penny dropped and it became clear, something very very bad was happening at this place & that these guys were in way over their heads. That’s happening now throughout the West Wing.

It is starting on Capitol Hill. The people who realize what’s happening may be able to save themselves, move to the right side of this story. Do some good. Those who continue to deny will only become collateral damage. Trump is the Enron of presidents.

He did it. He did it all. He did more than we know.

The very strategy Trump and his enablers have employed demonstrates the truth of that last line. The only remaining question is whether or not Republican voters and GOP members of Congress will be able hear the penny dropping above all the noise.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.