Is the deck being stacked against President Trump? It’s beginning to look that way since a special counsel was appointed a few weeks ago to investigate possible ties between Trump—or any breathing body in his campaign last year—and the Russians.
At the very least, the president will be on defense for months to come. He will be under scrutiny or attack by special counsel Robert Mueller, Senate and House committees, mobs of protesters, and the elite media. All the while the sword of impeachment will be hanging over him.
In theory, the appointment of Mueller as special counsel should be reassuring that the probe will be fair, objective, and nonpartisan. In his years as FBI director and as a Justice Department official, Mueller gained a reputation for honesty, integrity, and being a “straight-shooter.”
But already there are troubling signs. For openers, the history of such counsels—formerly known as special prosecutors—is not encouraging. Yet Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reacted to the first bit of pressure—chiefly from Democrats—and appointed Mueller. And this without much evidence of a crime to justify it.
The problem is that special counsels tend to expand their investigations beyond any underlying crime (if there is one) and keep going until they find someone to indict. This is what Patrick Fitzgerald did during the second Bush administration, finally settling for a flimsy charge of perjury against Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Fitzgerald declined to prosecute anyone for the supposed crime he was investigating, the outing of a CIA agent.
Mueller has already broadened the scope of his investigation to include whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice in his dealings with then-FBI director James Comey, Trump’s leading antagonist. Possible financial crimes by Trump associates are also to be examined, according to leaks by “officials.”
Mueller’s sterling character has eased concerns about the fact that he and Comey are longtime friends. But some of the investigators and advisers he’s hired have had the opposite effect. Paul Mirengoff, a Washington lawyer and contributor to the Power Line blog, looked into the political backgrounds of some of them and found a left-winger, donors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and a lawyer named Jeannie Rhee who “provided legal services for the Clinton Foundation.”
Rhee also donated $5,400 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign PAC. Mirengoff writes: “As bitter as the Clintonistas are about losing the election (or rather having it ‘stolen’ by the Russians), it seems unconscionable that Rhee would be on a team that will decide whether to prosecute President Trump at the end of a ‘Russian interference’ election.” Indeed, it does.
In politics, there’s a saying that no politician can survive a frisk. The Mueller probe hasn’t gotten to that point. But it appears to be headed in that direction.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans have unleashed seemingly endless hearings about possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians. The FBI has been investigating this since last summer and found no evidence. But Democrats are convinced acts of collusion will be found somewhere if they keep looking for them long enough. If Republicans balk, they’ll be accused of a coverup.
Nor has the media given up on the collusion narrative. In all those media stories about Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, the implication was he might be part of the plot. But what was cited as possible evidence were Kushner contacts with Russians after the election.
A writer for the Washington Post defended the paper’s coverage of Trump as unbalanced but fair. It’s Trump’s fault the coverage is wall-to-wall. He refuses to share the spotlight. But fair? The mainstream press, with a few exceptions, has long since abandoned fairness toward Trump. There’s even a new word for its anti-Trump posture. They’re “oppositional,” similar to Democrats and the left.
The impact of investigations, hearings, leaks, and a press corps eager for Trump’s ouster is pretty clear. They make impeachment more likely. That Trump is on defense (and should be) is on the daily news agenda.
The Democratic base is clamoring for impeachment. Their party needs a pickup of 24 seats in 2018 to gain control of the House and take up impeachment. A gain of that size would be less than historic. Democrats won 30 seats in 2006 when they were upset about the Iraq war and didn’t like President George W. Bush. Today, their intensity is far greater.
How will Trump react to a deck increasingly stacked against him? His inclination is to counterpunch when attacked. His base will probably stick with him. The result won’t be pretty.
Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard