In a mini-tantrum yesterday, Donald Trump raised the prospect of Special Counsel Robert Mueller issuing a final report and wondered about its content. “Will he be putting in statements from hundreds of people closely involved with my campaign who never met, saw or spoke to a Russian during this period?” the president asked.
I’ll confess, I find questions like these oddly entertaining. Trump’s argument, in effect, is that some top members of his political operation held private communications with a foreign adversary during its attack on our election – but not everyone on his team did so.
It’s a framework with a rich rhetorical history. At the height of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration tried to focus on the positives, effectively arguing, “What about the areas in Iraq that aren’t on fire?”
A few years later, during Herman Cain’s presidential campaign, the Republican was confronted with allegations of sexual harassment. Cain responded at the time by effectively asking, “What about the women I knew who haven’t accused me of misconduct?” About a year ago, during Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama, his supporters effectively argued, “What about the women in Alabama whom Moore didn’t target when they were teenagers?”
Not surprisingly, Trump’s argument yesterday didn’t get much traction, so the president renewed the tantrum this morning in a trio of tweets.
“The Phony Witch Hunt continues, but Mueller and his gang of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other. Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue.
“The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other. Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats.
“Look at their past, and look where they come from. The now $30,000,000 Witch Hunt continues and they’ve got nothing but ruined lives. Where is the Server? Let these terrible people go back to the Clinton Foundation and ‘Justice’ Department!”
I won’t pretend to know what the president is thinking, but this is not the tirade of a man confident of his legal standing.
The unhinged rhetoric about the special counsel treating people “horribly” and “viciously” also comes on the heels of Trump claiming two weeks ago that he has special insights into the “inner workings” of Mueller’s investigation.
But let’s also not overlook the context: late yesterday afternoon, the plea agreement between Mueller and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, collapsed. Confronted with news coverage of the developments, the president lashed out wildly at the special counsel.
It’s hard not to wonder whether whispers of a presidential pardon are right around the corner.