Thursday, March 22, 2018

BTRTN: In Case of Firing, Pull Here

Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they seem:  Donald Trump’s very own Saturday Night Massacre appears imminent. In today’s far more politically polarized environment, will partisanship bury Mueller and his investigation? Or is Mueller once again one step ahead of us all, having planted a booby trap that will explode if, and only if, he is fired?

It sure seems that it is now no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

Based on Donald Trump’s recent behavior, he’s ready to punch in the launch sequence that removes Robert Mueller from his position as special prosecutor. In all likelihood, this means that Trump will fire Jeff Sessions or simply demand that Sessions swap cabinet posts with EPA head Scott Pruitt. With Sessions out of the way, Trump has a clear path to demand that Rod Rosenstein fire Mueller. If Rosenstein balks Trump will fire him and continue to execute underlings until he finds someone who wants to be eternally memorialized as the reincarnation of Robert Bork.

With all the mayhem swirling around the Oval Office, it’s tough to put a finger on the exact issue that may be turning Trump’s thinking on the risks inherent in firing Mueller. But it appears to have come to a head shortly after Mueller issued a subpoena for Donald Trump’s business records.

That’s when we sensed the first traces of genuine panic seeping into Donald Trump’s utterances, actions, and tweets. Those were Trump’s fingerprints all over Jeff Sessions’ cruel and unusual firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just hours before McCabe was due to qualify for his pension.  Then, Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd told The Daily Beast that Rod Rosenstein should follow Jeff Session’s “brilliant and courageous example” and terminate the Mueller investigation. Even as Dowd tried to walk his statement back, his public waffles on the issue of whether he was speaking officially for the President only seemed to confirm suspicions that Trump was behind the message. Finally, in a series of gaseous expulsions via Twitter, Trump railed against Comey, McCabe, and – for the first time – actually invoked Mueller’s name.

Taken in sum, it appeared that Trump was ready to act to end the investigation that is threatening not simply his presidency and his frail and fragile ego, but also the very real possibility of criminal conviction – and jail time – for Donald, Don Jr., and Javanka. Eric alone may be spared, and that’s probably because he is so stupid that he thinks “money laundering” is a special service provided by the neighborhood dry cleaner.

There are people who say that Donald Trump never really wanted to be President. They may have had a point back in the run-up to the election, but they are dead wrong now. Today, Donald Trump is desperate to hold onto his office, because he may have realized that being President of the United States is his best strategy and perhaps only hope for avoiding jail time – for him, and most of his family.

As long as Donald Trump is President, he can heave roadblocks, delaying tactics, and diversions directly into the path of the steadily advancing investigators. As long as he is President, he has the power to pardon everyone in his inner circle for any and every federal crime. As long as he is President, he can keep his finger poised on the nuclear option: firing Robert Mueller and attempting to disband the entire investigation. As long as Donald Trump is President, he can hire and fire personnel in the executive branch pretty much at will, giving him the freedom to build an infrastructure of loyal toadies who will act on his bidding.

But Mueller’s new subpoena reveals the flaw in that particular ointment.

As long as Robert Mueller was confining his investigation into the matters of collusion and obstruction of justice, Trump may have figured he could ride it out. He may have bet that because he hadn’t written or read his own email this millennium, there would be no incriminating email with his name on the cc list. Nobody was transcribing or taping his meetings and phone calls with Don, Jr. or Jared. He was confident that he could bullshit his way through any sworn deposition by fluffing about what he did and did not remember. He is probably convinced that Mueller’s evidence on collusion and obstruction would come down to “he said, he said” with senior officials in the FBI, and he could assert that they were bore grudges against him because he fired them. Sure, Don Jr. and Jared look vulnerable on collusion, but President Daddy could pardon them on these federal charges. All good. Nothing to sweat about.

But with the subpoena on the Trump Organization, the game changes. Oh sure, the records might be sloppy, but there are records. There are email trails. There are financial transactions that can be traced. There are, in fact, tax filings.

Let’s start with a brief reality check: the real estate business in the city of New York has never been a place to find Oxford-trained ethicists or students of the Bhagavad Gita. It’s a rough and tumble business in which corners are cut, occasionally by the faulty three-hundred-foot cranes that come crashing down on 57th Street. We’re going to go out on a limb and posit that once Mueller’s world class legal team finishes fileting the financial records of the Trump Organization, they are going to find stuff. Maybe it will be evidence of money laundering. Maybe they will even find the stuff that makes Trump so terrified of Vladimir Putin. But all they need is evidence that the Trump Organization violated New York City and New York State real estate ordinances. Mueller may well be going for the trifecta -- collusion, obstruction, and money laundering -- but it could be the garden variety illegal business activity of Trump’s organization -- day-to-day violations, inadequately documented transactions, and questionable tax maneuvers – that are easiest to prove. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is the guy who filed that lawsuit against Trump University that led to Trump's $25,000,000 settlement. It's fair to speculate that Schneiderman isn’t a big fan of making America great again, either. 

As if to emphasize the sensitivity on this point, Trump said in an interview with The New York Times last July 19 that if Mueller were to attempt to look into Trump’s business and family finances, he would be crossing a “red line.” That would be the red line that Robert Mueller just crossed.

So Donald Trump is now completing his very stable genius assessment of the situation and may be realizing that his moment is at hand. If he waits any longer, Mueller will disembowel the Trump Organization and could find ample filth to put the entire Trump clan in the Penthouse Suite at the Elmira Correctional Facility. Yes, and if crimes were discovered, the cases would be tried at the state rather than federal level, which would make it impossible for Trump to pardon anybody, as presidential pardoning powers are limited to federal crimes.

Trump may also have realized that if the firing-Mueller shit is going to hit the fan, it would be much better to spray the debris while Republicans still hold the House of Representatives rather than wait until the Blue Wave crashes to shore in November. Why, Trump might even be thinking that he’d be wise to push to have the entire issue – accusations, charges, impeachment articles brought to the House floor – sooner rather than later. The longer Mueller works, the more solid his case becomes. The longer Mueller works, the greater likelihood that the legislative wheels of impeachment are set in motion in front of a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats. 

Better, Trump may be realizing, to take the heat for firing Mueller now rather than wait.  

How will it play out?

Let’s start with a shout-out to Jeff Sessions. Many people today view Jeff Sessions as a mealy-mouth coward who did Trump’s perverse bidding in firing Andrew McCabe. There’s room, however, for a different take. Perhaps Jeff Sessions knew that Trump’s demand that he fire McCabe was a “heads I win, tales you lose” gambit. If Sessions fired McCabe, Trump would succeed in savagely punishing an enemy and further may have soiled the reputation of a key witness and cast doubt on Mueller himself. But if Sessions did not fire McCabe, Trump could view Sessions’ failure to act as insubordination and use it as grounds to justify firing Sessions… giving Trump a more direct path to terminate Mueller. So Sessions decided to sacrifice McCabe in order to keep his own job – and live for another day so that he, in turn, could keep Rosenstein and Mueller in their jobs.

You have to say this: despite endless humiliations at the hand of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions has not quit. By staying in his job, Sessions has thrown his own body in front of Rod Rosenstein, and, therefore, the entire Mueller investigation. Something in me says that when the history is finally written, Jeff Sessions may actually emerge as a patriot. A soiled patriot, to be sure, but a patriot nonetheless.

So let’s say Trump does fire Sessions and Rosenstein, and does find a toady who is willing to execute the Bork chop on Mueller. The real question is how Congress will react. 

Retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said that firing Mueller would be "a massive red line that can't be crossed." Senator Lindsey Graham publicly stated that firing Mueller without cause would be “an impeachable offense.”  But these are two of the most outspoken members of Congress. It is not at all certain that the Republican majority in the House would view things the same way.

Indeed, given that Republican congressional leadership appears to have catastrophic congenital defects – Ryan has no spine and McConnell has no balls -- it’s our bet that their view will be that Trump was acting within his authority in firing the special counsel, and that this action alone does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Each will pronounce the need to find a new special counsel, but everyone will know that the nominees coming from the Justice Department will be carefully screened Trump advocates. The risk will rise that the entire investigation will crumble.

Which is why we think that Robert Mueller may have already planted a time bomb that is programmed to explode if – and only if – Trump elects to fire him. 

An item appeared on Bloomberg on March 12 that did not receive a large amount of coverage. That day, Bloomberg reported that Mueller had essentially wrapped up his investigation into obstruction of justice, but that he appeared to have made a strategic decision to not release those findings in isolation. Rather, the report went, Mueller would closely hold his findings on the obstruction charges until all elements of the investigation were complete.


Here’s how we read that little bombshell.

Robert Mueller – whose investigative team does not leak anything – somehow allowed word to get out to a major news wire that it had already reached a decision on whether Donald Trump had committed obstruction of justice. That is to say, the report is already done. Written. Complete. Ready to be presented to the Department of Justice. It has already concluded that Donald Trump is either completely innocent of any and all accusations of obstruction of justice, or that the special counsel believes that Trump is guilty of an impeachable offense. If the  latter, it further means that the special counsel already has assembled the documentation and evidence it needs to take the case to trial. 

I think I know the line they’d put on that question out in Vegas.

Here’s our theory.  If word flashed out on the newswires that Donald Trump has removed Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller will immediately – before Trump can get to his next step -- deliver his findings on obstruction to Rod Rosenstein. Once that report is officially in the hands of Rosenstein and the DOJ, it will be impossible to suppress it. 

In short, if Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller, Mueller will instantly activate a report that details truly impeachable offenses.  Trump will have pulled the trigger on his own demise.

And how about Mueller’s unusual decision to let word get out into the press that he had already reached his conclusion on obstruction?

We’d love to think that Mueller was just sending a coded message over to the legal team at the White House.  Tell your boy that if he fires me, the shit hits the fan, all right... but it will be far more toxic radioactive waste than Trump was banking on.
Robert Mueller has been one step ahead of everyone since he and his investigative team first set up shop. Right now, he may be the only person in this country standing between the rule of law we have enjoyed for two centuries and the ruinous triumph of a despot and his party of cowards. My money is on Mueller.

Let the endgame begin. You want to fire Mueller, Mr. President?

Go ahead, Donald. Make my day. 

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