A special counsel

A special counsel

Donald Trump's impulsive and ill-conceived conduct is turning aspects of his nascent presidency into a circus the country doesn't need.

President Donald Trump's chaotic tenure produced another stunner Wednesday. This time it was the appointment of a special counsel whose job will be to investigate Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election and what role, if any, Trump campaign associates may have played in it.

Suffice it to say, the thin-skinned Trump is not happy with the decision. In more of his unfortunate tweets, Trump called the investigation "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history" and said of himself that "no politician ... has been treated worse or more unfairly."

Self-pity is never attractive, and that's especially true when presidents engage in it. But few things upset Trump more than the suggestion that he needed the Russians' help to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. When the subject is raised, he has neither the capacity nor the inclination to take assertions like that in stride.

The question now is, what's next? The only correct answer is, who knows?

The FBI, under now-fired James Comey's leadership, already was looking into the Russia matter. That investigation will continue under Comey's successor. But the FBI now will answer to Robert Mueller in his capacity as special counsel.

But what suspected crime — who did what when? — is the FBI looking into?

Comey declined to share any details with congressional oversight committees. At the same time, former Obama administration national security officials have testified before Congress that they found no evidence that whatever Russia did or tried to do had any effect on the outcome of the election. Further, California's Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has stated that she has seen no evidence improperly linking the Trump campaign with the Russians.

Perhaps that's why Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, said his decision is "not a finding that any crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted."

That's usually not the case in matters of this nature. The Watergate investigation began with a burglary of the Democratic National Committee and expanded from there. The Iran-Contra probe was set in motion by disclosures that White House officials had improperly provided funding to guerillas trying to unseat the communist dictator of Nicaragua. The investigation leading to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton regarding Monica Lewinsky started with an investigation into the shady Whitewater real-estate investment involving Clinton associates.

Throughout the entire history of independent counsel probes, there always have been specific allegations that provoked investigation.

Even if critics, as some have done, allege that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had improper contact with the Russians, that came well after the election.

Given those facts, it seems clear that Rosenstein took the action he did to reassure the public that any investigation would be above board. That, in itself, is not a bad thing.

But special counsels who enjoy unlimited time and resources have a history of running off the rails. That's why a bipartisan Congress opted not to renew the independent counsel law that vexed politicians of both parties over the years. The Reaganites fumed while Iran-Contra special counsel Laurence Walsh consumed many years and many millions of dollars in his endless probe, but no more than Clintonites who raged at independent counsel Kenneth Starr during his probe of Lewinsky et al.

What also is clear is that the opposition party loves to sit back and cheer on a special counsel probe of the party in power. Republicans cheered on Starr. Democrats cheered on Walsh.

So now Democrats will cheer on Mueller, who will be conducting what appears to be an open-ended investigation in search of whatever he can find.

The only discipline that will be imposed on this investigation is the discipline that Mueller imposes on himself. So the good news for Trump, if there is any, is that Mueller is a widely respected figure who can be expected to be an impartial fact-finder.

The bad news for Trump is that he appears to be emotionally unwilling to let matters play out while he pursues his legislative and administrative agenda.

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jwr12 wrote on May 20, 2017 at 11:05 am

"Even if critics, as some have done, allege that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had improper contact with the Russians, that came well after the election."

In point of fact, Flynn was both centrally involved in the Trump campaign and questions about his contact with Russian authorities began before it concluded.  Sally Yates, for example, informed the administration that the Russians had compromising information about Flynn early in the New Year, just after Trump's inauguration.  This was not new information, but dated back to many months before.

See, for example, the discussion of this in the conservative-leaning newspaper, the Washington Examiner:

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/russians-used-flynn-to-influence-trump...

It cites intelligence that Russian officials were bragging about Flynn as their man in Trump's campaign.

Asking questions about Flynn's behavior is central to this investigation of Russian influence on the campaign, not an expansion of it.  The implication that it's a fishing expedition is not based on knowledge of the facts.