by Charles M. Blow
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his widening investigation seems to be closing in on Donald Trump and his coterie of corruption, but Trump and his emissaries aren’t sitting idly by. They’re girding for a fight.
Last week The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that Mueller was widening his investigation to include “an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.”
This set Trump off. As the sun rose on Thursday morning, he posted the first of what would be a daylong barrage of statements on Twitter, attacking the “phony story”; later he lamented “crooked H” and “Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia.”
But that wasn’t enough.
He started up again Friday morning, this time posting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”
This seemed like an acknowledgment that he was indeed under investigation. But on Sunday, the Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made the talk show rounds to insist that what the president wrote was not what the president meant. Sekulow stated emphatically, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.”
Whatever the truth may be, Trump is certainly behaving like a man who is under scrutiny and like one who is determined to defend himself every step of the way.
Last week it was reported that Mueller hired more than a dozen lawyers for his team, but as soon as he did, they came under attack by Trump cronies like Newt Gingrich. On Sunday on ABC, Gingrich issued a blistering attack on some of the lawyers Mueller has hired, suggesting Mueller stacked the deck with Democratic mercenaries out to get the president for political reasons.
At one point in the interview, Gingrich claimed:
“You tell me why the first four names that came up, I don’t know about the next nine, the first four names are all people who gave to Democrats. Two of them are people with a record of hiding evidence from the defense. And one of them is a person who defended the Clinton Foundation. Now in this environment with a Justice Department where 97 percent of the donations last year went to Hillary, 97 percent, explain to me why I should relax as a Republican.”
This was a stinging about-face from when Gingrich praised Mueller when he was selected. Host Martha Raddatz pointed this out: “In May you said he was a superb choice for special counsel with an impeccable reputation for honesty. Less than a month later, you say he won’t be fair.”
But that’s the thing with Trump and his hangers-on: They will say and do anything, even if it directly contradicts what they said or did moments earlier. This is how truth becomes degraded: by being casually disregarded.
This investigation is in the early stages, but Trump has no plans to wait for it to either condemn or clear him. He is taking a much more aggressive approach, one that in the end may do more harm than good.
He is attempting to defame, discredit and delegitimize.
Trump knows that whether anything from this investigation sees the light of day in a court of law, the investigation is already being litigated in the court of public opinion. In that court, he’s already guilty.
Trump’s public petulance about being mistreated is in fact a public appeal, in order to rehabilitate his brand.
If a legal case against Trump is born of this investigation, Trump is no stranger to a courtroom.
As USA Today reported last year, Trump has been involved in over 3,500 legal matters, which was an unprecedented number for an American presidential nominee.
Trump often prevails. As USA Today put it: “Among those cases with a clear resolution, Trump’s side was the apparent victor in 451 and the loser in 38. In about 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against Trump.”
Trump knows that the law can be fuzzy and the legal system pliable, bending in particular under the weight of massive resources like money.
Fighting has worked well for Trump. He knows that one of the critical flaws in American jurisprudence is that it too often favors fight over right.
So Trump will fight this investigation that he calls a “witch hunt,” because he realizes that it is a sprawling inquiry, potentially ending up far afield from where it started.
Mueller is not in search of a conjurer but a culprit, and he’ll shine a light in every dark corner to find one.
Gingrich told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Friday of the investigation:
“They’re going to get somebody. I don’t think they’re going to get the president, but they’re going to get somebody, and they’re going to get him for something. And they’re probably going to go to jail.”
I agree: When federal investigators start looking for something, they often find something. I’m not removing the president so quickly from jeopardy.
The president and his White House are going to fight this tooth and nail, but in the end “someone is probably going to go to jail.”
(This column originally appeared in the New York Times JUNE 19, 2017 under the title “Trump is Girding for a Fight”)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at email@example.com.”