The bombshell news on Wednesday that Robert Mueller will be a special counsel to lead an independent investigation of President Donald Trump, was met with giddy hoorays on the left and sighs of relief on the right. For their part, Democrats are smelling impeachment in the water, while Republicans are just glad the pressure’s finally off them to “do something” about Trump and his daily drag on the party.
But putting partisan politics aside (yes, that’s a thing), the real winners here are the American people. A very anxious citizenry, both pro- and anti-Trump, deserves answers and accountability. Faith in our institutions is at an all-time low, and whatever Mueller finds has the real possibility of restoring some of that faith. And, just think about the sixth-grade civics class that gets a front-row seat to democracy in action.
But while everyone can and should applaud this development, the good times are likely short-lived. Here are the five things to watch for:
Trump will not go quietly into that good night. While any sentient primate facing a special counsel would know to lay off social media and refrain from antagonizing his investigators, Trump sees things differently. He’s already tweeted that “this is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” And he’s complained that “there was never a special councel (sic) appointed” for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
This might be an ominous play — if Trump knows the investigation will likely dig up some pretty rotten-smelling dirt, he may have decided the only court he can win in is that of public opinion, specifically his public. And they just love his tweets.
Democrats will definitely overplay this. Mueller’s investigation can literally go anywhere. He can subpoena Trump’s tax returns, old “Apprentice” outtakes, even Trump’s fourth-grade report card, if he thinks it will reveal something relevant.
With Mueller’s mandate this broad, and Trump’s life and cash so complicated, overzealous Democrats needn’t feel compelled to manufacture drama. And yet, it’s almost certain some will. The day the special counsel was announced, for example, Rep. Al Green of Texas took dramatically to the House floor to call for Trump’s impeachment.
The danger here, of course, is that if the investigation reveals no smoking gun, Trump’s supporters will insist — and with some authority, then — that nothing his detractors say should ever be believed. And that is very dangerous territory to enter.
Republicans will definitely underplay this. Though they are relieved the pressure’s off them to investigate Trump more thoroughly, many will continue to run defense for Trump, even if just to please their constituents back home. It’s not a good look. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah already rushed to the cameras to question the need for a special counsel that Trump’s own appointed deputy attorney general called for.
“I have not seen any evidence of actual collusion,” he told Fox News. “Where is the actual crime that they think they need a special prosecutor to prosecute? I just haven’t seen it.” Er, maybe that’s because Chaffetz’s own Oversight Committee has refused to investigate it?
Democrats will definitely turn on Mueller. Robert Mueller’s unimpeachable integrity should have its own Twitter handle, it’s gotten so much love from the left and the right over the past 18 hours. And deservedly so. But how long will it take for Democrats to flip the script (a reverse Jim Comey) if the investigation fails to turn up anything damning enough to get Trump kicked to the curb?
And will anything short of high crimes and misdemeanors — the threshold for impeachment — satisfy Democratic bloodlust? Mueller won’t grandstand for Democrats’ approval, and if he doesn’t produce, he’ll no longer have it, just you watch.
Trump goons, be afraid. Trump’s cadre of campaign cartoon villains, from Paul Manafort to Carter Page to Michael Flynn, should prepare for the worst. With new reports the Trump campaign had at least 18 points of contact with Russian officials during the election, it’s likely one or more of his Russophile affiliates will be ensnared in this investigation.
And especially if Trump manages to squeak through unscathed, someone will be a fall guy.