No one loves a good street fight as much as Donald Trump, so it must be killing him to sit on his thumbs while special counsel Robert Mueller goes about his business of flipping Trump’s former colleagues and raiding their offices. Mueller has the president caged, and his instincts are surely telling him to start rattling away. But he is listening hard to his advisers this time.
Trump has been mostly quiet while Mueller has cut a wide investigative swath over these past several months, and in the wake of the first wave of indictments last week, Trump remained mostly respectful as well.
Behind closed doors, Trump must be steaming mad. He’s tired of his successful campaign being a punching bag. He’s as frustrated as ever with his attorney general for recusing himself and inserting Mueller into the situation to begin with. By accounts, Trump is even turning on his own family now, blaming son-in-law Jared Kushner for his ill-fated decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Complaining about Kushner being a poor political adviser is akin to complaining about the taste of gasoline, but the president is hard-pressed and looking to deflect.
The Trump team’s strategy is clearly not working. The president’s approval ratings remain firmly anchored in the 30s; meanwhile, Mueller is just getting warmed up. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were low-hanging fruit. As he works the way up the tree, Mueller will continue to rattle the president’s confidence and disrupt his agenda. The long-term outlook for this presidency is bleak if Trump does not ramp up his defenses quickly.
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Firing Mueller is not the answer. As he learned from the Comey debacle, Trump cannot fire his way out of a Department of Justice investigation. The heat would only intensify; his support would only erode further. Firing Mueller could be the final blow to this presidency.
If Trump can no longer afford to stay silent, and the risks of firing Mueller are too great, then the answer must lie somewhere in the middle. Enter Roger Stone – the Tommy Morrison of street fights. Trump’s longtime adviser wants him to appoint a new special prosecutor to investigate the Hillary Clinton-run State Department’s role in approving a Russian energy company’s acquisition of Uranium One, a Canadian-based mining company, in 2010. Although many government agencies signed off on the deal, the Obama administration and Clinton’s State Department ultimately approved it. Mueller was FBI director at the time.
Stone posits that the Uranium One investigation would marginalize Mueller, as he could not effectively serve as special counsel in the Russia investigations while under investigation himself. If Trump can’t outright fire Mueller, Stone believes that appointing a new special prosecutor would be the next-best thing.
The inclination is to cast Stone aside as an unhinged conspiracy theorist. Maybe his plan is too clever by half, but he gets credit for at least having a plan to begin with. This is the kind of thinking Trump’s team needs more of. Sitting idly by is no longer an option. The president must figure out how to deal with Mueller soon, or Mueller will deal the president out of a job.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.