How should we interpret Trump's reversal on his decision to fire Mueller?
Back then, the risk of a congressional revolt, even among Republicans, seemed real. Is it still? I have tried to carve out a space for realistic optimism about Republicans' willingness to stand up to Trump's worst excesses, but that cheery confidence is being put to the test by the unrelenting assault on the independence of the Justice Department and FBI.
Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under President Obama, notes in Lawfare that "there was a time when ... it seemed that Congress could well rise to the occasion if Trump fired Mueller. There is now much less chance of this. Prominent congressional Republicans, encountering no audible objections from their caucuses, are escalating the attack on the Justice Department and the special counsel."
Trump, emboldened by his Fox News feedback loop, could easily look at this shameful congressional behavior and interpret it as providing the permission structure for extreme action. As with calculating whether to launch a nuclear strike, that assessment could turn out to be a misinterpretation with catastrophic consequences.
Maybe Trump's legal team, which wasn't fully in place in June, will provide a calming influence. Maybe, but these folks have Trump for a client. Meanwhile, don't be fooled by Trump's professions of willingness to cooperate with Mueller. Remember, we were going to see his tax returns, too.
So Trump's June restraint could easily become, well, March madness. The Constitution grants him a power to pardon that he has already demonstrated a disturbing propensity to misuse. What is there in Trump's character and behavior to suggest he would not be willing to do so again, as Mueller closes in?
Ruth Marcus' email address is email@example.com.
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