Donald Trump can't talk his way out of legal peril in the Robert Mueller investigation

Trump may be innocent. But Lord it’s hard to understand why he has behaved the way he has if he is

David Usborne
Saturday 27 January 2018 10:32 GMT
Demonstrators hold up signs referencing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the President's ties with Russia during the second annual Women's March in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last weekend
Demonstrators hold up signs referencing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the President's ties with Russia during the second annual Women's March in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last weekend (Reuters)

Let’s give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume he does have something to hide when it comes to Russia and the 2016 presidential race.

To accuse him of being entirely innocent would be quite unfair. No one guiltless would have behaved in the manner he has while under investigation, unless they had a screw or two loose. Or had such an exorbitant level of arrogance he thought he could talk his way out of any kind legal peril. That can’t be. Because he is a genius, something he reminded us of this month.

We should have done him this favour a long time ago. Like last May. I mean you don’t fire the man who at that time was just kicking off the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia unless you’re afraid. That, of course, was James Comey, the then director of the FBI. You certainly don’t do it when the obvious inference every one else will draw is that you intend to obstruct justice. That’s a crime right there, whether or not the collusion stuff holds water.

Sean Hannity makes painful u-turn on whether Donald Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller

And there are so many other things a vaguely smart man wouldn’t do if he were he confident of acquittal. He wouldn’t rage at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for formally withdrawing himself from having anything to do with the Russia investigation after admitting that he had himself had conversations with Russian officials in Washington that he had previously failed to admit to.

Nor would he attempt to axe other officials high up in the investigation. People like deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. He did recently, as it happens, but was firmly rebuffed by the Christopher Wray, who was confirmed later last year to replace Comey as FBI chief. Nor would you discuss ousting Sessions’ number two, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Firing Rosenstein really would been daft, because he was the one who after Comey’s removal and Sessions’s decision to recuse himself took the crucial step of appointing a special counsel to take over the probe. We learned that Trump did in fact consider getting rid of him from a front page report in the The New York Times on Friday. Together with one other nugget of information.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Getty
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Getty (Getty)

That was the headline on the piece: that last June Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel himself, Robert Mueller. We all know the mayhem that that would have caused. Washington would have been set ablaze. The obstruction of justice conjecture would have been seen as validated not just by Democrats, who’d have gone bonkers, but by many Republicans too.

Mueller did not get sacked, because the top lawyer in the White House handling the collusion case told Trump he would resign before carrying out the order. But the mere fact that this has come out is extremely damaging on its own. Trump thought he could fire Mueller, really? How could anyone not conclude then he was trying to obstruct justice? How could we not assume it was part of a wider cover-up? What did he and his campaign get up to in 2016 exactly?

It would make sense also if you are innocent of all potential charges to run a White House that told no lies. But it has, we now see. He has. So have his people. “I haven’t given it any thought,” Trump told reporters in August when asked if he’d ever pondered firing Mueller. “Well, I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I’m going to dismiss him. No, I’m not dismissing anybody.” Those who lied for him include top advisor Kellyanne Conway. “The president has not even discussed that. The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller,” she told ABC News the same month. Another of his top lawyers publicly made the same contention.

He is still lying. Besieged by reporters in Davos to comment, he roundly dismissed The New York Times article. “Fake news, folks,” he replied. “Fake news. Typical New York Times fake story.” Not only did the Times have four sources for its report, several other news outlets quickly followed with versions of their own. Among them was Fox News, not normally swift to corroborate something that risks such obvious harm to him. “They said, ‘This is going to blow up,’” one source told Fox about the day Trump disclosed his desire to see Mueller gone.

We also learned last week that Mueller is now close to interviewing Trump himself. He has already had just about everyone else with possible knowledge of what happened into his office including Sessions and Steve Bannon, the now banished former aide. Trump horrified his own legal team by appearing impromptu at a gathering of reporters in the White House last week and declaring he was not only looking forward to speaking to Mueller but that he was happy to do so under oath. His backers, notably on Fox, declared this a “perjury trap”. Because if he does have something to hide, he would be obliged to behave in character. He would be obliged to lie.

Of course, he will do just fine if he is actually innocent. And, to be clear, he may be. But Lord it’s hard to understand why he has behaved the way he has if he is.

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