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!
Coming to a theater near you, a confrontation between the forces of good and evil, namely: Truth and Justice vs Alternate Reality. In one corner we have Truth and the Rule of Law in the form of our Department of Justice and the FBI. The superheros on this side are Rosenstein, Mueller, Mueller’s team of 16 cracker jack hand picked prosecutors with specialized expertise in RICO, money laundering, and a host of other areas of pertinent legal knowledge. They are going to fight to uphold our Constitution and the idea that no man, including the President, is above the law. That was the ideal of our founding fathers. They did not want a king. They created a democracy because no one should be above the law. Kings have absolute power to rule as they please. Presidents are part of a three pronged governmental system that is supposed to have built in checks and balances to power. People who work for our government take an oath to uphold the Constitution and that includes attorneys at the DOJ, agents of the FBI, our lawmakers and our president. They do not take a loyalty oath to the president.
In the other corner we have Trump, Sean Hannity, Rudy Guiliani and now a new guy who was a Clinton impeachment attorney, Emmet Flood. Ty Cobb got kicked to the curb because he was too accommodating for this new dream team of screaming, yelling purveyors of disinformation who are now going to kick their PR effort into high gear, run it up the flagpole and see how many Republicans will salute.
What we see coming has been getting shaped in the past months. Back in March, Trump’s legal team met with Mueller. At that time Trump’s lead lawyer was John Dowd. Dowd had been urging Trump to play nice with Mueller and give him what he wanted. But after this meeting in which they discussed whether Trump would sit down with Special Counsel Mueller for an interview, Dowd must have realized that Trump, who is not able to tell the truth for more than a sentence or two, might walk in to the interview as a “subject” of the investigation, but after an interview with all those topics on Mueller’s list, he would leave as a “target.” It is also likely that after seeing all these topics of interest that Mueller wanted to talk with Trump about, that Trump had lied to him about “nothing to see here.”
Dowd and Mueller talked mano a mano. Dowd says Trump might not meet for an interview with him. (Neerner neener) Mueller counters by saying Trump does not need to meet with him but if he does not, Mueller has the power to subpoena Trump. A grand Jury can order people to appear before them. Interviews with the FBI are better for witnesses because their lawyers can be present to advise them. But if Trump or any subject appears before a grand Jury, they are there alone and they are questioned by prosecutors who are very knowledgeable about the evidence in the case. The prosecutors know what the truthful answers are because of the evidence they have gained through documents and witnesses and people who have “flipped”.
After this meeting, I am certain that Dowd, recognized the peril coming for Trump and told Trump in no uncertain terms not to interview with Mueller. But Trump, at that time, and at times even now, must be thinking the fastest way to get this investigation over, get this monkey off his back, would be to do the opposite- sit down with Mueller and con him like he does everyone else.
Dowd is no longer on the Trump team, but he was very possibly the guy who recently leaked the 49 questions that Mueller allegedly wants to ask Trump. They were probabaly generated by Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s current legal team. There is buzz that the reason for leaking them is that Dowd and other lawyers on his current team are still trying to impress upon Trump what a bad idea it would be for him to go have a sit down talk with Mueller. (See all those questions he is going to ask you? You could get in a lot of trouble!)
People who try to influence Trump often learn the hard way that he will do the absolute opposite of what he is cautioned not to do “Don’t you dare do that!” Turns into a dare to do that very thing! Trump is grandiose and a narcissist. He is certain he can prove everyone wrong. After all he won the election against all odds! He knows better than anyone how to do his own PR, how to be his own lawyer, how to beat Kim Jung Un at his own game etc. etc. etc.
Guiliani has joined the legal team (which was a choice that is hard to believe was anything but a PR move since Guiliani is such a terrible lawyer- he is almost as bad at lawyering as Trump is at being a president) as a replacement for Dowd. Guiliani also met with Mueller. And after that meeting I think we are seeing Guiliani playing for time as he tries to set up limits on what Mueller can ask or how much time Trump can be questioned. I doubt Mueller will agree to any of that. The questions that need to be asked are not going to be asked and answered in 3 or 4 hours. Guiliani seems to be pretending that Trump may be willing to sit down for an interview with Mueller to buy time. But it is unlikely that Guiliani really means to follow through with such a meeting. Instead, I think Trump is going to fight everything tooth and nail. He is going to say that Mueller has no right to interview him. He will invoke attorney-client privilege, which is a bogus claim, as well as other bogus claims. Above all he is going to do an all out PR assault on the so called “deep state” and he will “meddle with the DOJ” as he has been threatening to do in recent tweets. He will try to get rid of Rosenstein, and maybe Mueller as well.
How much Trump gets away with will depend on the Republicans and the American people.
We know now that Mueller and Rosenstein are ready to go to the mat; they are willing to subpoena Trump and get into the fight for the soul of our country. (I was not sure they were willing to go there.) But given the reporting from the Washington Post, and Rosenstein’s recent wonderful, spirited defense of our democracy, “the Justice Department will not be extorted” (KABLAM! POW!) we are getting a clear indication that the subpoena power is going to be used.
What will probably come next will be a court battle that will go to the Supreme Court. Given the importance and urgency of the decision, the Supreme Court will expedite the matter. The question of whether a subpoena can compel a sitting president to appear before a Grand Jury should be decided against Trump. And if Trump goes before the grand jury, he is likely to have a sudden case of memory loss for everything he is asked about to avoid answering and avoid taking the Fifth. No matter what, he will look guilty.
In the short run, we see Trump positioning himself to fight dirty as usual. He will gin up his base. He will cry foul when the ball is over the plate and perfectly legal. He will have Guiliani and others in his gangster mob making the rounds on cable news crying “witch hunt!” “no collusion!” and he will assault Mueller and Rosenstein and Comey and anyone else he can find to try to beat this rap.
For Trump this is business as usual and now he is the president so he has a lot of people who want to please him so they can get what they want. And right now, we see few Republican heroes who will stand up for the law and for the Constitution. All of these Republicans who cannot take the heat are getting out of Dodge. At this count about 41 of them are not going to run for re-election. The Republicans in the House are afraid to speak out because they fear Trump’s base, so they are leaving in droves. Not exactly profiles in courage. They do not want to be part of this administration when it implodes and I think they see it coming.
Right now it looks like we are going to have a knock down drag out fight between the these two dueling superpowers. I know who I want to win. I know who HAS to win for the good of the American people, But I do not know for sure whether our country will come out of this in good shape. What is at stake is huge And what is going to be tested is not only the will of Republicans but really the will of all of us. Will we stand up for our country? Will we come together to support our Superheroes?
Make a vow that you will. If we all do that we will come out of this mess better for it in the end.