On Monday, former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s probe released the first indictments of members of Donald Trump’s inner circle. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and longtime Trump associate Rick Gates were charged with a variety of offenses involving money laundering and a conspiracy to mislead investigators. Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pled guilty to meeting with a Russian-linked source that promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He is working with prosecutors.
For Republicans inclined to dismiss these developments as unrelated to either the campaign or the “Russian collusion” narrative, Manafort is facing charges related to interests in Cyprus—a notorious hub of Russian corruption—through which he funneled funds linked to unnamed individuals in Eastern Europe. Manafort’s habit of pocketing barrels of cash provided via concerns with direct links to the Kremlin suggests these indictments are not the last shoes to drop in the case Mueller is investigating.
Though sealed, Mueller’s office revealed that indictments were forthcoming on Friday. Even before the substance of these charges was known, David Rivkin and Lee Casey got to work crafting a Wall Street Journal op-ed advising Trump to transform a suboptimal situation into a disastrous one. “Mr. Mueller’s investigation has been widely interpreted as partisan from the start,” the op-ed declared. To support this contention, the authors note that some of Mueller’s staffers had previously donated to Democrats, though they omitted that some also donated to Republicans. Further, Rivkin and Casey invoke the “tremendous bitterness” the investigation has summoned up in Trump’s voters, though they decline to explain why this is in any way relevant to a special counsel’s proceedings.
Having established what they appear to assume is a pretext for going nuclear, the authors advise Trump to go to DEFCON 1. “Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon,” Rivkin and Casey insist. That pardon, they advise, should be provided to “anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office,” including the president himself.
Fighting “madness” with madness is an odd way to go about restoring public faith in government. The authors of this op-ed contend that Mueller’s investigation has gone off the rails and is abusing its authority, but they take for granted the assumption that their audience already agrees with this claim. They seem to have concluded that the Mueller probe was irredeemable before it produced anything that would justify their irritation.
If this kind of sophistry was limited to one op-ed from two outside authors, it wouldn’t be of much note. But it’s not. This piece was published just days after the Journal’s editorial board accused Mueller of corruption and demanded his resignation. Why are Mueller and his operation suspect? According to the Journal, it is possible, though not demonstrable, that the FBI might have followed a thread established by the “Steele Dossier” to begin investigating the Trump campaign in 2016.
The Journal alleged that the dossier is “full of Russian disinformation,” though what they mean is uncorroborated rather than objectively falsified allegations. They claimed that the dossier, which was covertly funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, might have served as a basis for James Comey’s FBI to ramp up its investigation into the Trump campaign. Finally, they contend that Mueller’s close relationship with Comey suggests that he could be too close to this investigation conduct himself impartially. The editorial closes with a rote call for “a full accounting” of the extent of Moscow’s intervention in the American political process, but that does not appear to be the purpose of this wildly speculative broadside.
These contributions to the opinion landscape play a reckless game with remarkably high stakes. The implication that there is a conspiracy at the highest levels of government to avoid investigating the real crimes committed by Clinton and the Democrats inculcates in both Trump and his supporters a persecution complex. Paranoid people do irrational things.
When outlets the president and his advisers respect signal they are willing to provide ballast for Trump if makes a move against the special counsel’s office or his Department of Justice, they may have to make good on that promise. And where do they go then?