Trump has lost the ability to distract from Mueller

Sometimes, events conspire. Other times they are pushed together until they explode.When President Bill Clinto...

Posted: Apr 11, 2018 2:48 PM
Updated: Apr 11, 2018 2:48 PM

Sometimes, events conspire. Other times they are pushed together until they explode.

When President Bill Clinton launched airstrikes on Iraq in December 1998, it forced Republicans to temporarily delay their plans to impeach him and drew accusations he was trying to ward off impeachment with a war.

Clinton even obliquely mentioned impeachment during his address to the nation.

"Saddam Hussein and other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate before the House of Representatives would distract Americans or weaken our resolve to face him down," Clinton said. "But once more, the United States has proven that although we are never eager to use force, when we must act in America's vital interests, we will do so.''

After a pause, Republicans in the House voted to impeach Clinton three days later.

In the case of President Donald Trump's administration, there is no impeachment proceeding approaching or even seriously being talked about, so this is not meant to conflate the two situations. But it is certainly the case that during Trump's administration, near-crises careen into and out of the headlines and crash into each other every day in a way that makes those two competing Clinton storylines seem tame by comparison.

But for Trump, beneath everything is the Mueller investigation and its tentacles, which can flare at any moment, edging other events from the headlines.

It's illogical to think the Trump administration has a defined plan to distract and divert attention from Mueller's investigation since there are so many stewing world events sparked by Trump's belligerent foreign policy -- last week it was a looming tit-for-tat trade war with China and a surprise decision to send US troops to the border with Mexico.

This week, the dominant news competitors are Syria and Russia, which are linked. On Syria, the President has promised "big price" will have to be paid by the regime of Bahsar al-Assad after devastating chemical attacks and horrible pictures of stricken children chilled western news audiences.

It's worth noting that Clinton's airstrikes in Iraq did not cow Hussein, who was ultimately overthrown years later during the George W. Bush administration. And Trump's pledge to respond to Assad next door in Syria is complicated by the fight against ISIS that bleeds into Iraq.

On Russia, the President's foreign policy trash talking alter ego -- who has come out before, notably in taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un -- was threatening Russia in tandem with Syria.

His two tweets, taken together, amount to a both schoolyard taunt and a request to work together:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and "smart!" You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it! Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?

But even the specter of a new US military action, which has not yet come to be, could not long keep attention from Trump's rage at his own Justice Department after an FBI raid on his personal attorney. He fumed at reporters about the raid on Michael Cohen Monday night while his national security team sat stonefaced before a meeting that was to include Syria.

He had to preface his tweets about Russia Wednesday morning with a disclaimer that his White House was not in chaos.

Trump mused Monday about firing his attorney general or his deputy attorney general and has mused before about firing the special counsel investigating Russian election meddling. Any one of those axes is the stuff of a constitutional crisis.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have warned the President against firing Mueller and leaders have said in the past they have assurances he will not do so.

CNN reported Tuesday Trump may want to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to place some sort of check on Mueller, although you'd think such intimidation could just as easily push a man like Mueller into a higher gear. There's an open legal question about whether Trump can in fact fire Mueller, although his press secretary said Tuesday he believes he has that ability.

But it's easy to understand why Trump, who as US President is among the most powerful people in the world, would want to fire someone, anyone. Even if doing so would cause a constitutional crisis.

He can, literally on a whim, deploy American firepower; how else to explain that the US military was caught off-guard by his decision to send National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. He can, all by himself and without asking anyone's permission, start the process of imposing more than $150 billion in tariffs on China. That's power. He can be sickened by horrible pictures out of Syria and do something about it if he chooses to.

But he cannot stop the federal agents from raiding his attorney's house based on information given to them by the special counsel tapped by his own Justice Department appointed.

That has to make a very powerful man feel somewhat powerless.

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