Sheila Markin is a former Assistant US Attorney. She helps people to understand in plain English what is going on in US politics today. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!
Trump fatigue is real and it is sweeping the country. The outrage and passion on the right that Trump ginned up and rode into the presidency is wearing thin. People across the country are sick and tired of this guy tweeting out his demands and expressing his toxic views like an old timey senile grandpa with a giant megaphone strapped to his rocking chair watching Fox and Friends during his “executive time” to see what he should tweet about today. We are exhausted by the turmoil and the revolving door firings of staff members and cabinet members and the hiring of still more mean spirited, anti-everything-we-think-matters staff to take the place of those who have departed. Is there no end to this chaos? We are sick of it.
And into this mix something is coming that is right around the corner. We are on the verge of something that is very big and that is coming pretty soon, probably this summer. What is that? Mueller’s report on obstruction of justice. We are in the calm before the storm when it comes to that moment in our country.
Mueller’s team is said to be in the process of writing a report on the obstruction issue. Based on the information we get from the Washington Post, it looks like the report is really all but completed. Most likely the only missing piece is the information that would come from Mueller’s interview of Trump himself. We hear the President is getting prepped for that interview. I’d love to be in the room to see that. Saturday Night Live could do a terrific skit. Trump’s inability to concentrate beyond Fox and Friends is well known. I imagine Trump’s handlers trying to keep his attention while he watches cable news over their shoulders, jumps up out of his chair, and throws away the talking points they are trying to tell him about and wanders out of the room. A lot of people who want this president to succeed are worried. They are warning him not to do the interview. And we know that when people tell this president something is a bad idea, that makes him want to do it even more. Telling Trump not to do this interview could be the very thing that drives him to prove them all wrong and gives him the impetus to sit down with the Special Counsel. Trump is a great marketer. But Mueller is not an easy mark.
Obstruction of justice turns on mens rea, or knowledge of wrongdoing. Did Trump knowingly try to cover up the investigation by firing Comey? Or was he acting with other motives? When Trump takes action as we have seen, he often acts impulsively and improvisationally. He reacts to “No” with a knee jerk kick in the opposite direction of what he is told not to do. Reflexively. Oppositionally. Is that what happened with Comey’s firing? Was he being reflexive and merely reactive to show that when people say no to him he can do it anyway because he is the president and he has the power? But then we have those statements of relief about how he felt better getting rid of Comey, and about how good it felt to get this Russia thing off his back, that he made to Lester Holt on national TV and to the Russians who came to visit him in the Oval Office. Was it that he wanted to end the investigation and he felt better by firing Comey, because he mistakenly thought that would end the investigation and that would feel good. Or was he trying to cover up a larger scheme to work in tandem with the Russians to win the election? What was in his mind? What did he know?
It is not yet totally crystal clear what Trump had in his mind when he fired Comey. And that matters. A lot. Which is one big reason why the Special Counsel would like to have a sit down talk with Trump. I have faith in Mueller that if Trump did not have the requisite mens rea for obstruction, Mueller will figure it out. I have faith that Mueller will be true to the law and I trust him to be fair to the president.
Trump is not the only person who acts in opposition to something. We all do at times. Right now with an overwhelming sense of Trump fatigue setting in, the majority of Americans are feeling a combination of outrage and exhaustion about Trump and his policies. We can see in these special elections how Americans are rising up to push back in opposition to Trump himself – his corruption, his grandiosity, his devaluation of our democracy, the ruination of the environment.
The Republicans are using a kind of oppositional motivation to scare the Trump base into coming to the polls in 2018 saying that the Dems want Trump impeached so they need to come out to vote to save the presidency. We shall see how effective that message is with Trump going all out for a trade war with China which hurts his base (farmers, steel workers, dock workers, etc.) and must feel to them like a kick in the teeth from the man who vowed to protect them and restore their jobs.
So what are we in for? What is coming to a theater near you?
When the report comes out from Special Counsel it will be sent to Rod Rosenstein and he will decide what to do next. He can send it to Congress, the House Judiciary committee, or keep it under wraps. Given the tremendous interest in this report that is coming, it will be hard for Rosenstein to sit on it. Passing it along to the Republicans (who are in charge of all committees including the House Judiciary committee) means they will probably try to bury it unless it exonerates the president.
So let’s say the report does not exonerate the president for the sake of argument. If the report finds obstruction with the proper knowledge or mens rea, if the findings are not made public, I believe we will get our version of Deep Throat: namely, people who would leak the findings to journalists once they are outside of the cloak of secrecy that Mueller keeps over his investigations at the FBI. We will learn about this part of the investigation even if it is the Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee breaking the rules and letting the cat out of the bag.
Now let’s say there is not a clear finding of obstruction of justice. I think that finding will strain credulity for the majority of Americans partly because we all heard Trump say what he said to Lester Holt and the Russians.
Either way, if the report comes out before the 2018 midterms, I think we will see Americans react with renewed energy both for and against Trump. The Blue Wave will get bluer and more energized and the Republican right wing will at least try to rise as well to defend the administration. There will be tons of money thrown at this food fight by the donor class. Republican donors have gotten their rich reward for their devil’s bargain with Trump. They are richer than ever from the tax cut for the wealthy. More money to throw at the 2018 midterms without feeling any pain in their pocketbooks. (I plan to mute every single political TV ad on my set come 2018 and throw out any political mail that I get. I don’t believe any of it and refuse to listen to it. That’s part of my personal oppositional action plan and I highly recommend it to you.).
We are in the relative calm before the storm, I think. I guess we should enjoy it while it lasts. The tempest is around the corner but on its way.
Opinion | Trump’s politics of outrage is failing him
No matter how many hot buttons he pushes, he cannot arouse the passion he needs on his own side to counter the determination of those who loathe him.