What a mess. Any way you look at it, the Russia probe is a mess and distraction. The president needs to calm the waters, ignore his detractors, and legislate. He has eighteen months, at the outside forty-two, to work with a bicameral Republican Congress. Every day counts.
Yet the drumbeat continues. Thursday it was a Washington Post report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could try to thread the needle and take a look at “obstruction of justice” charges, but based on what? Not much there. Ninety-nine of a hundred legal scholars would say that, speaking legally, there is an inadequate basis for a finding of "corrupt intent," let alone direction, in context of former FBI Director James Comey's prior public actions and President Trump's separate authority and basis for the firing.
Lots of mutual disaffection, true. Some indiscretion, a bit of resentment, and a disgruntled public employee, Comey, who pleads that he was “defamed” when fired, for a job many already thought he had botched. His own testimony seems to reinforce a peculiar sense of the job, and entitlements.
Mueller likely knows all this, and sees it clearly. So why interview on the topic? Hopefully, dotting I’s and crossing T’s. Why are those inside now leaking his methods to the Washington Post, perhaps disgorging “law enforcement sensitive” information? To score political points, probably. Who is investigating them? Not clear.
Un-talked about is this fact: Mounting political backlash against Democrats, for pressing unsubstantiated claims. What a miscalculation, if the Democrats think that is their ticket to 2018, or 2020.
In any event, an obstruction claim would just go to Congress for inaction. The best possible outcome for Democrats and anti-Trump bureaucrats might be a constant flow of leaks, rumors and innuendo, trying to render the sitting American president distracted, and possibly ineffectual.
The best possible outcome for the country would be a swift end to the inquiry, win, lose or draw. Only two outcomes really exist, vindication and condemnation. The first leads to restoration of faith in the presidency. The second turns into politics immediately, barring a barnburner of a revelation.
Un-talked about is this fact: Mounting political backlash against Democrats, for pressing unsubstantiated claims, is certain to materialize. Like mounting backlash against those pushing violence on college campuses and against Republicans, this mess may get bigger. What a miscalculation, if the Democrats think that is their ticket to 2018, or 2020.
Is there a silver lining? Yes. By letting the Special Counsel do his job, the president evinces trust in the justice system. If the president takes a deep breath, demonstrates presidential calm, empowers his exceptional cabinet, encourages his targeted White House, and aggressively works his legislative agenda, he will rise above it all.
In the process, Americans would get real movement on health care, real tax reform, strong national security and law enforcement, needed infrastructure, and predictability. That would be more than enough.
As Ronald Reagan told George Herbert Walker Bush, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” The president has limited time to do what he can with a Republican Congress. Success is about results. Time to get down to it. And every day counts.
Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush, former naval intelligence officer and litigator. He served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.