The response to the expected release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Thursday can make or break President Trump’s reelection prospects for next year.
The effectiveness of that response can also undo Mr. Trump’s remarkable “America first!”-populist makeover of the Republican Party in the last 2½ years.
It’s too much to expect him to fight this one by himself. He needs help from his 2020 reelection campaign, from Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel and her 50-state, five-territory Republican National Committee and from the rest of the GOP’s apparatus. It will be a survival test for all of the above.
Actually, Mr. Trump can help his cause big time, on his own, by declassifying and ordering “the unredacted release of 100 percent of the FISA warrants and orders,” says campaign-finance attorney Cleta Mitchell.
What has her madder than a tigress in a rainstorm is evidence of a Democratic get-Trump conspiracy. The then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, for example, met in 2016 with a legal beagle from the same law firm that the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign used to pay the infamous Fusion GPS. Ring a bell?
The money — try to stay focused here — went for former British spy Christopher Steele to assemble a dossier of uncorroborated intelligence for Fusion GPS. It purported to show Mr. Trump and some Russians colluded to throw the election Mr. Trump’s way. Actually, it was blue-collar voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania who threw it his way.
Republicans are sure that the FBI used the dossier to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to issue a warrant. It is what allowed the FBI to spy on Mr. Trump’s campaign in the final days before the election.
The point in all of this as far as the president and his supporters are concerned is that the FBI must have smelled the stench of partisan manipulation in the dossier. Therefore the FBI was complicit in a Clinton campaign-Democratic Party conspiracy to deny Mr. Trump the presidency.
Mrs. Mitchell thinks “all the GOP should be out there educating the public about how these people in the FBI and Obama intelligence leadership were the ones who REALLY interfered in the election.”
She’s right. It wasn’t the Russians. It was those perfect models of pious pomposity: then-CIA Director John O. Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and of course then-FBI Director James B. Comey and Hillary Clinton.
“That’s the national scandal,” Mrs. Mitchell says in a text message. “Watergate was nothing compared to this. Nothing. Compared. To. This.”
It’s a different story for Democrats. They think Mr. Trump has two looming vulnerabilities. One is on the question of obstruction of justice. He fired Mr. Comey, dictated a misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians and tweeted what Trump-hunting Democrats interpret as the improper influencing of witnesses. Democrats will try to raise these acts — even absent a showing of criminal intent — to the impeachment threshold. An impeachable offense need not be a criminal act.
The other big vulnerability is on what will be Democrats’ claims that the Trump real-estate organization helped Russian Mafiosi.
Democrats will say the Rusky dons laundered their ill-gotten gains by purchasing million-dollar New York and Florida properties from the Trump Organization — at a big markup by the seller.
More Brazilians are said to buy more Trump properties for more millions of dollars than Russians, but what the hey! It’s not about truth; it’s about a year’s worth of negative publicity for a Republican president seeking a second term.
It’s not that he will face criminal indictment for money laundering or obstruction of justice — he won’t. Not while president.
Rather, it’s the ugly public impression that Trump opponents think they will be able to create. Their fervent hope is that doing so will end the Trump era four years earlier than the president and his supporters would like. And leave the Trumpified GOP in a post-Watergate-like wreck.
Democrats figure the reason the special counsel didn’t hit Mr. Trump with an obstruction charge is that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had already opined in 1973 and again in 2000 that “a sitting President is immune from indictment as well as from further criminal process.”
For you clarity buffs, here’s more of the Oct. 16, 2000, opinion of Randolph D. Moss, then-assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel: “Where the President is concerned, only the House of Representatives has the authority to bring charges of criminal misconduct through the constitutionally sanctioned process of impeachment.”
That’s why even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will eventually drop her opposition to her Democrats’ wasting time and energy in talking up impeachment. I expect there will be enough hints and innuendos regarding money laundering and especially obstruction of justice in the Mueller report to make it hard for the Democratic-controlled House to resist the siren call of impeachment.
Attorney General William P. Barr’s own choice of words in his Mueller report summary was encouraging for every heavy-breathing, get-Trump-now Democrat in America: “… the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Not sufficient in a court of law, sure. But for Democrats, sufficient to do reelection damage in the court of public opinion as much of heavily populated coastal America rivets on impeachment proceedings.
For Mr. Trump, it would be better
to jam the Democrats’ FISA-warrants abuse down their throats and make the Russia-interference investigation the Democrats’ scandal.
That will be better for ending the immigration crisis, reversing industry and job migration abroad, making over our infrastructure and getting us out of the nation-building business beyond our borders. And maybe one fine day in the Trump second term, tackling the national debt.