A Scenario Where Naming Robert Mueller Special Counsel Saves the Trump Presidency


Most of the mainstream news media, many Democrats, and even bettors all seem pretty convinced that the presidency of Donald Trump is doomed. Essentially, the conventional wisdom is that the naming of the highly-respected Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign has set a process in motion which will eventually, but inevitably, force Trump to leave the White House prematurely.

I can certainly understand why some pretty smart people are coming to this conclusion. After all, if the now famous James Comey “Let it Go” memo really does indicate that Trump attempted to interfere with the Russian investigation and this is deemed to be obstruction of justice, then clearly the instant the Democrats take over the House of Representatives he will indeed be impeached.

We are a long way from that being known to be true, however, and even if it were, it would not necessarily mean that Trump’s presidency would be over, or even necessarily completely crippled (as we learned with the impeachment of Bill Clinton.) In fact, I see a scenario where, thanks to the naming of Mueller as a special counsel, Trump is able to survive this crisis in a fashion remarkably similar to what happened with his former wedding guest and golfing partner.

Obviously the easiest way for this to happen is for Mueller to eventually conclude that there was no serious wrongdoing on the part of the Trump campaign. Since Mueller has been widely praised, and is even an old friend of Comey’s, that would clearly end the issue for good, with Trump able to endlessly brag (do you think he would?!) about his vindication. Without a special counsel like Mueller, thanks to Trump’s inexplicable firing of Comey, such a full exoneration would not have been even theoretically possible, but now it is.

To be clear, I don’t anticipate that being what happens here. While it is impossible to know for sure, it definitely feels like Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort are in serious jeopardy already (when Sean Spicer tried to pretend that Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was a minor figure, it was a sure sign something was not right). It also seems like, much like the Bill Clinton investigation began with Whitewater and ended with Monica Lewinsky, that this thing could start in Russia and end in Turkey.

So I fully expect Mueller to conclude that there was serious wrong doing in the campaign, but that of course leaves open the question of whether Trump himself gets directly implicated. In a rational world, it wouldn’t matter because with that much fire elsewhere it would then eliminate any benefit of the doubt that Trump might be given with regard to the intent of his request to Comey to “Let it Go.”

Of course, as we have seen time and again in recent years, we no longer live in a place where rationality rules the outcomes of these types of controversies. It should not be forgotten that, at one point early on when bombshells were coming out about Ken Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton, it was presumed that his presidency would also end in resignation or removal. Anyone remember how THAT turned out?

One of the main reasons Clinton survived his impeachment saga (other than having most of the news media in his corner, which Trump will not have) is that by enduring the initial tidal wave of leaked information he was able to buy time until the investigation was officially concluded. By then, Starr had been turned into the bad guy and the public was tired and bored with the process. In the end, the American people, guided by the pro-Clinton media, just didn’t give a damn that their president lied under oath and obstructed justice.

Now Trump’s challenge, obviously barring exoneration, will likely be greater than Clinton’s because he starts with far lower approval ratings, hasn’t been already been reelected, and the media won’t be demeaning/distorting the subject matter as only being about “sex.” But this doesn’t mean that Mueller’s appointment didn’t at least give Trump a chance to save himself, even if he is “guilty” here.

In a very real sense, Trump like was a boxer getting the crap beat out of him this week. He was in grave danger of going down for the count and never getting back up. Even his corner man (Fox News) was starting to think about throwing in the towel as they suddenly found themselves getting beat by MSNBC and CNN in the ratings. If Comey testified convincingly immediately after this onslaught, then it might have been the beginning of the end.

The hiring of Mueller is effectively like an outside force suddenly causing the fight to be temporarily delayed, at least in public. It doesn’t get Trump off the hook, but when you are getting your ass kicked any suspension is inherently good because something dramatic might happen down the road which alters the dynamics of the battle.

Mueller is very unlikely to run this investigation via leaks and he is also not likely to wrap this up real quick. What is NOT known at this moment is whether Comey will still imminently publicly testify, as had been widely rumored to be in the works. There are reports that he still wants to, but there is also speculation that Mueller would not like that to happen and that Comey would certainly cede to his wishes.

If Comey does not testify in public anytime soon, then Mueller’s appointment is automatically a net win for Trump, regardless of what the eventual outcome here is. If the public never sees what he has to say, or even sees his memos, then not one ardent Trump fan will ever even think of abandoning their hero over this and Republicans will be forced to stick by the president almost no matter what Mueller concludes.

Under that scenario, Trump will have be given time, possibly lots of it. Obviously, when it appears you are a “Dead Man Walking,” time can be a most valuable asset, especially in this era when the world seems to change nearly every day. Don’t bet against Trump yet.

There is likely a LONG road ahead of us.

John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at johnz@mediaite.com

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