Sunday, March 24, 2019

Teflon Don Strikes Again

With the conclusion of the Mueller probe, Trump has now head-faked more dirty political attacks than I can count. From Obama's 2011 vitriol at the White House Correspondents Dinner to the 2016 GOP primaries to the unprecedented and unfounded accusations of treason no less, Trump has faced and absorbed political blow after political blow. Jeb!'s jaw must be on the floor by now.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Mueller probe, specifically, represented an existential threat to his presidency. Many sober minded people believe that the regulations governing the role of a Special Counsel are too expansive and inevitably lead to overreach and unintended political consequences. We don't need to look very far back to see this illustrated in the Clinton Independent Counsel probe led by Ken Starr which started at Whitewater and ended at Monica Lewinski.

The invasiveness of the Mueller probe cannot be overstated. In Attorney General Barr's summary, he lists the investigative steps the Special Counsel office undertook. It includes:
-2800 subpoenas 
-500 witnesses 
-500 search warrants 
-230 orders for communications records 
-50 orders authorizing pen registers
-13 foreign govt intelligence requests

But that only counts the investigative steps taken from May 17th, 2017, forward. The investigation of Trump and his orbit started way before that. It's still unclear exactly when it started but late 2015 is a good guess. At the very least, an official FBI investigation with a full-on codename was started by Peter Strzok on July 31st, 2016. 

And this official FBI investigation was a counterintelligence investigation. That is very significant. A counterintelligence investigation is unparalleled in the arsenal of investigative tools available to agents, and it is not specifically focused on a crime.  People can be the target of a counterintelligence investigation and never be the wiser, except their most intimate secrets now reside in a dusty file at the J Edgar Hoover building. There is no notification. There is no cross examination. And that very well might have been the intention in this case.

These tools of counterintelligence are designed to catch enemies of the state, spies and other slippery spooks. You know, the kind of people who were executed for treason way back when. It is the surveillance apparatus of the most powerful country in the solar system. Serious stuff.

In the case of the Mueller probe, you have this convergence of the potentially runaway nature of a Special Counsel combined with the aforementioned counterintelligence tools. It's hard to imagine a more invasive type of investigation let loose within the United States.

And yet...

Even through all that, Teflon Don is still standing. I’m sure there’s something that can take him down. No one is perfect. But at this point, who would bet against him?

It’s not so much that he won this battle, but it played out in such a public fashion that there was a clear beginning, a roller coaster in the middle, and then a clear end. So the general public actually gains rooting interest along the way, relating to the characters and the struggles. In the end, Trump seems to do a spin move, separate from the defender and high step his way into the end zone. The ending of this particular story feels so final.

The most surprising aspect (to me anyway) is this is not a man who has lived his life as a typical "future president of the United States" would. He intentionally cultivated a playboy image, owning and operating casinos, having messy divorces, seeming to enjoy his mug appearing on the cover of the National Enquirer. Not to mention spending years as a reality television star where the cameras are never really off.

On the business side, he always seems to have a hand outstretched to characters with spotty backgrounds. Where some might see unscrupulousness, he might see a kindred soul relishing action amid chaos and mental toughness. Anyone who brings Michael Cohen into their orbit has a non-traditional way of judging talent.

All of this would seem to add up to a target rich environment for someone, anyone, looking for dirt. And as we know, look they did. Sharp-minded Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS spent the better part of three years digging and publishing. Same with Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold of Buzzfeed.

It's fair to say that Trump has been lucky in his enemies. The enemies themselves have often been been compromised (Hillary Clinton) and the hills chosen "to die on" by his enemies have been often been ill advised (Khashoggi!?). And yet you can't argue with the record of success.

POTUS seems to have a magical, mythical quality surrounding him. The conclusion of the Mueller probe didn't pop that balloon. Seth Abramson and Malcom Nance (and Greg Jarrett and Scott Stedman and Greg O'Lear and...) will all still be shilling their books tomorrow morning but I hope the american people can finally move on.

1 comment:

  1. I think he's been lucky because the IRS has been auditing every return he's ever submitted, so he's more careful than his enemies who depend on favorable rulings from bought judges for their continued freedom. The other thing is that because he was a Democrat until a couple of years ago, his enemies are "send me to the asylum" bonkers about his current status and situation. Nobody likes a turncoat. E.g. Benedict Arnold and his treatment by the British, or the Soviet Union and its treatment of just about everyone who spied for them.