Mueller’s Rope-A-Dope

Guess who’s not leaking? Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Trump/Russia ties. They’ve got three things on their side right now: 1) A trail to the truth, 2) Investigators who are the best in the world at following money trails, (which we’re sure is the key to all of this), and 3) Time (maybe).

And it’s driving Trump crazy, because it gives him nothing to push back against, other than the fact that there’s an investigation at all. And maybe even more importantly to the President, because they might start looking at his money which would very likely include his tax returns. (We’ve pointed out repeatedly that the President always talks about his non-involvement in Russia in real estate terms “I don’t own buildings in Russia”, but he never mentions whether he owes Russians money.)

So Trump is building up a huge, private legal apparatus to combat Mueller, by 1) limiting or undercutting Mueller’s investigation, 2) Preparing smear campaigns against Mueller’s team, and 3) Maybe firing Mueller.

Trump’s been extremely aggressive about this, and about abruptly changing direction on legal staff: most recently bringing in John Dowd, most famous for getting Pete Rose banned for life from baseball. Washington lawyer Ty Cobb is also on board, as is de-facto legal spokesperson Jay Sekulow. The odd man out is the person who has been most loyal to Trump over the years (and now Trump is showing no loyalty to), New York criminal attorney Marc Kasowitz (who may forever be best known for warning an unknown online heckler: “watch your back, bitch.”) Kasowitz, the White House says, will remain on as an “advisor.”

Through all of this, Trump keeps insisting he doesn’t even need lawyers (or he’s not even inquiring about pardons, etc. etc. etc.) because he’s “done nothing wrong.” And that goes for his family, too. (Although watch how fast he’ll start throwing them under the bus, especially, as he asserts, he can pardon them after.) And although he’s made it less of a core point that he’s not a target, as recently as last week, he said of the Russia investigation “it’s not on me.”

What’s remarkable about all of this, is this huge private legal presence in the White House (some are calling it a “war cabinet”) is being built mainly to combat the Justice Department, FBI, and Special Counsel, all part of the Executive branch, meaning they all, in the end, report to Trump. Congress, which because of the Constitution is more independent, is seen as less of a threat. The Supreme Court, now that it’s backed Trump on his “travel ban”, is seen as no threat at all.

Trump loves legal battles. Proof? He’s been involved in thousands of them. He may even feel some comfort in wrangling with the Special Counsel. But, of course, this is different than Trump University and the long-ago housing discrimination cases (and everything else in between). Trump is right when he says he “wins” a lot in life, even when by all conventional wisdom, he shouldn’t. But that’s not been the case in legal forays, even though he will say otherwise. He claims he’s “won” in court because he’s been able to pay slightly bigger fines in exchange for cutting deals where he didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing (even though it’s obvious, or he wouldn’t be paying the huge fine.) That’s allowed him to walk away saying “I didn’t do anything wrong”.

Only there is nothing to walk away from here, except maybe the Presidency. And for Trump to give that up, he’ll have to be dragged away.

So Mueller’s team has to know that to keep working in relative leak-free, comment-free obscurity means the blows from the White House are going to keep coming: harder and faster and more and more. And they will be viewed and portrayed as an adversary, perhaps even an enemy combatant. And they won’t be able to say anything about any of that, or do anything about any of that right away, because they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. And the President knows that, so will land even more body blows.

The alternative, of course, is leaking, which we would argue sometimes is necessary, but is usually cowardly (which is why the White House does it so much). And anyway that would play right into Trump’s hands.

We in the media, and the public, have to remember that we are being fed by the White House on this, we’re getting our cues from the White House, not the Mueller team. The little we are hearing about Mueller’s work is confined to scattershot reports on who he’s been interviewing. We would posit that info is not coming from Mueller’s team, but more likely from the interviewees themselves, who are “outing” themselves because they don’t want to be seen as “ratting out Trump”, (and also because if you’re going to go to jail, you might as well get famous).

The truth is at this point we have no idea if Mueller’s team is finding super-serious stuff, or nothing at all. Because they won’t say anything, because they’re in the middle of an ongoing investigation. This is standard. And it also makes sense. (In fact, one of Trump’s biggest criticisms of Comey is he broke that protocol.) The only clear signal that Mueller’s people might be onto something is the President seems to be getting so much more and more fretful every single day.

Mueller’s mission is one we do not envy. But while it’s excruciatingly tough, the President may not succeed in making it impossible. Just keep your head down, stay out of the spotlight, weather the blows (some of which may be earth shattering) and store up your strength, so should you need to, you have the power in reserve to deliver the biggest blow of all.

(This story originally appeared in “The Chaos Report” Newsletter https://thechaosreport.com/subscribe/?scr=Medium)