Donald Trump has made plenty of enemies since he burst forth on the scene two years ago to declare his candidacy for President. But he has no worse enemy than—Donald Trump. Trump’s self-absorption, his tactlessness, and his indifference to timing and nuance have all reduced his effectiveness by making more enemies than a more sophisticated president would have made, and have provoked investigations of himself and his administration which might otherwise not have been called for. A perfect example is the newly-launched investigation, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, into whether President Trump was trying to obstruct justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey.
As president, Trump was well within his legal rights to fire Comey. Moreover, he had an understandable reason: Comey’s refusal to say in public what he told Trump in private, i. e., that Trump himself was not under investigation for colluding with Russia to throw the 2016 presidential election, or for anything else, for that matter. Trump evidently thought that Comey, by permitting the public to think he was being investigated when he was not, was allowing a cloud of suspicion to engulf his administration and damage its effectiveness. But by abruptly firing Comey, while failing to offer any coherent, consistent rationale for doing so, Trump did the impossible: He transformed the Democrats’ greatest villain—in their demonology, it was Comey’s interference in the election last fall that sealed Hillary’s fate—into their newest hero. And of course Trump provoked Mueller’s new investigation, which might never have been started had Trump handled Comey better.
What the new investigation itself will unearth remains to be seen. Trump is reported by Comey to have expressed his hope that the investigation into his former national security advisor, General Flynn, be ended, but Trump’s wording of his “request” may have been too ambiguous to constitute obstruction of justice. Comey did not report it as such when Trump first spoke to him about it, and did not feel inhibited from continuing the investigation. Moreover, Comey has admitted that Trump thought it would be a good idea to investigate some of Trump’s other subordinates. Suggesting an investigation is hardly obstruction.
Yet as Mueller gins up his investigation, the possibility that something might be found cannot be dismissed. Mueller’s hiring more lawyers and seems to be preparing for a long, drawn-out probe into the business affairs of Trump, his family, and his associates.
So what should Trump do? Two things come to mind:
First, Trump should NOT fire Mueller. To do so would be politically disastrous, as was Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre in October, 1973.
Second, Trump should NOT invoke executive privilege—the doctrine that says that conversations between the President and his aides are confidential and cannot be revealed. Nixon tried this in 1973 to prevent investigators from knowing of Watergate-related talks between himself and his aides. The Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to prevent revelation of conversations involving criminal matters, and Nixon resigned. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan said he would not try to use executive privilege to block any investigation of Iran-Contra in 1987, and he rode out the scandal into honorable retirement.
Beyond this, President Trump should do—nothing.
Any more interference from Trump will strengthen the impression, however unjustified by the facts,that he’s got something to hide. It’s best to simply let the investigation proceed, possibly—although not inevitably—collapse under its own weight, with little actual evidence of wrongdoing being found.
Moreover, additional interference from Trump could distract public attention from what could otherwise be two new investigations being planned by the Senate Judiciary Committee—investigations which could yield nothing, yet could also potentially yield new findings the Democrats might not care to share.
One prospective investigation may be to determine whether Obama’s former Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, interfered with Comey’s investigation into Hillary’s emails. After all, her meeting with Bill Clinton just as Comey was wrapping up the investigation seems suspicious. And Comey has said Lynch directed him to downplay the investigation, calling it simply a “matter,” consistent with what Hillary’s campaign was calling it.
A second line of inquiry may be into whether the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign played any role in the development of the scurrilous and thoroughly-discredited “report,” produced by a former British intelligence official, alleging close ties between Trump and Russian operatives. One example of the accusations made in the report and substantiated nowhere is that Trump hired Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed to be used by President Obama on a trip abroad.
For political junkies the foreseeable future offers possibilities of fascinating revelations as Mueller investigates Trump, the Senate Judiciary Committee investigates Democrats, and basically everyone investigates everyone. No doubt Trump will feel sorely tempted to interject himself into all the intrigue. But if he values his presidency he should simply sit back, let the facts reveal themselves, and hope that anything bad Mueller produces will be counterbalanced by what the Judiciary Committee finds as well. If Trump can develop enough self-discipline, he could go from being his own worst enemy to his own best friend.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.