Pretending problem doesn't exist doesn't solve problem, American President learns
Posted October 30, 2017 10:30 a.m. EDT
(CNN) — Here's how Donald Trump, aka the President of the United States, responded on Twitter to the news that his one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been indicted on a dozen counts of money laundering and filing false lobbying forms for his work in foreign countries:
"Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????.......Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"
Trump hasn't yet responded to the subsequent news that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to his presidential campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding the timing and nature of his contacts with Russian foreign nationals -- a much bigger story in regards Russia's involvement in the 2016 election.
But the White House is making clear that their argument on Papadopoulos will be the same as their argument on Manafort: This guy hasn't been around Trump in a long time! Nothing to see here! Focus on Hillary Clinton!
"There is clear evidence that the Clinton campaign colluded with Russia to smear the President," argued White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday afternoon.
That line will work with Trump's core supporters who believe whatever he tells them to believe or, perhaps more accurately, don't believe anything the mainstream media tells them to believe. ( A majority of Republicans -- 53% -- said in a June CBS News poll that the special counsel investigation is a "political distraction.")
The problem for Trump -- support from his base notwithstanding -- is that he is making a political argument in response to a legal problem. And that almost certainly won't work.
Trump's goal -- from the start of the appointment of Bob Mueller as a special counsel in May to look into the allegations of Russian meddling and collusion -- has been to disqualify the findings and the discredit the people investigating.
Mueller and fired FBI director Jim Comey are friends!
Several members of Mueller's team have donated to Democrats!
All of these "stories" are aimed at providing fodder for Fox News and other conservative outlets to counter Mueller's ongoing investigation. The idea is simple: Convince conservatives that what they might be hearing about indictments and guilty pleas are a distraction from the real story, which is, of course, how the last administration and Hillary Clinton did something super nefarious.
And yet, no matter how many conservatives or even Republican elected officials (and that list is growing) call on Mueller to resign or argue that he's missing the real story, Mueller and his team just keep moving forward. Short of firing Mueller, which Trump has publicly ruled out (for now), nothing that Trump can or will do can change that legal march. (And, if he fired Mueller, there would almost certainly be a push from Congress to immediately appoint another special counsel or even to re-appoint Mueller.)
Today marks another step forward. The Manafort and Gates indictment and the Papadopoulos guilty plea feel like the beginning of the next stage of Mueller's investigation, not its end point.
As the process moves more into the legal realm -- as opposed to the political one -- the tougher it is for Trump to effectively argue that this is all a witch hunt. Guilty pleas and indictments are not just spin from people out to hurt Trump because they don't like his policies.
Nor are they meaningless back and forth amid the heat of a political campaign. These are serious charges with serious legal consequences. No matter how harshly Trump attacks Mueller or those around him -- or dismisses the importance of Manafort or Papadopoulos -- it doesn't change the real legal peril these folks face.
Now. Trump broke every rule of conventional politics -- or at least most of them -- when he won the presidency last year. Much like George Costanza, Trump did the opposite at all times -- and it worked. Is it possible that, in the face of the legal proceedings facing former Trump officials, people simply don't care?
Sure. (In the words of Kevin Garnett, anything is possible!) But the key question is whether the American public -- up to and including loosely affiliated Trump voters in 2016 -- are willing to believe that the Justice Department and Mueller are willing to risk their credibility and that of the American justice system to pursue a trumped up (ahem) case against a variety of Trump campaign officials.
Count me as skeptical.