The New York Times had a report over the weekend on Donald Trump’s political operation and the president’s focus “on vengeance” now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is complete. As the article put it, the president’s aides, at least for now, “are indulging him, attacking the Democrats who have sought to investigate him and the reporters who have written about it.”
The Times added, however, “Privately, some Trump advisers acknowledge those attacks may have a shelf life.”
It wasn’t a throwaway line. For all the celebrations in the White House, for all the end-zone dances, for all presidential boasts about “total exoneration,” some in Trump World are no doubt aware of the fact that Mueller’s findings may not be as great for them as their boss is choosing to believe.
Keep this in mind while reading Olivia Nuzzi’s new report:
[A]s the excitement waned, “cooler heads” emerged in the White House with brand-new anxieties about a president inclined to inflict self-harm by taking things too far.
“There will be plenty of unfavorable things about the president in the full report, which we think will eventually come out, so let’s not go overboard saying there’s no wrongdoing. Let’s move on,” one senior White House official told me.
As a strategy, that makes quite a bit of sense. Attorney General Bill Barr told the White House what it wanted to hear; Trump and his allies sang “We Are The Champions” for a few days; and some officials see value in quickly shifting the political world’s focus before unflattering facts reach the public.
But it’s too late for that.
Trump and some of his top allies have already said they don’t want to move on; they want to wage war against anyone and everyone who took the Russia scandal seriously. What if the Mueller report ultimately suggests those who took the scandal seriously were right? The president, convinced of a narrative that makes him happy, didn’t stop to think about that.
Instead, he went way out on a limb, telling the world that the special counsel and his team found absolutely no evidence of obstruction or cooperation between his campaign and our Russian attackers. The fact that the Mueller report, to quote Nuzzi’s source, will likely include “plenty of unfavorable things about the president” never seemed to enter the equation.
Almost immediately after Barr’s non-summary summary came out, a Trump adviser noted the president’s tendency to screw things up for himself when confronted with good news and raised the possibility of presidential “overreach.”
The adviser was right to be concerned.