by Cinzia Croce
Whenever speculation mounts that Donald Trump is about to deliver his famous line “You’re Fired!” to special counsel Bob Mueller, the NeverTrumpers begin circling the wagons by offering their unsolicited and disingenuous advice to the president. The best scenario for Trump, they say, is to let Mueller do his job and exonerate him. It is important for the American people – they always add this, cloaking their political maneuvering in the noblest terms – to find out the truth about Russian meddling in our elections.
That would be sound advice if the investigation was about finding the truth. However, even the most naïve soul in America by now has realized that the special counsel was not appointed to “find the truth” about Russia or anything else. His task is to rid the DC swamp of the intruder the American people dared to elect in November.
Mueller wasted no time in revealing his hand. He packed his team not with experts in counter-intelligence or cyber-security, but with individuals well versed in white-collar crimes. In just two months, he has moved away from the original mandate and is now reportedly looking into the private financial dealings of Trump and his campaign associates. It will not be much longer before Mueller will issue a subpoena for the president’s tax returns – the Holy Grail that both Democrats and NeverTrumpers sought during the campaign. Their hope has been, and still is, to either force the president to resign by threatening to destroy his financial empire or, better yet in their eyes, to completely discredit and destroy him so that no other outsider will ever dare to challenge the status quo again. The stakes in this fight are very high, and if the government of, by, and for the people is to survive, the president needs to immediately take bold and decisive actions to end the Russia investigation.
Step #1 – Demonstrate to the American people that a collaborative relationship with Russia is beneficial
During the presidential campaign, Trump said that he would be willing to meet with Vladimir Putin prior to being sworn as president. Regrettably, he chose not to follow through and wasted six months avoiding Putin and taking actions – such as bombing Syria – designed to appease his domestic political opponents. As soon as the Tomahawks landed on Shayrat Airbase, several of the president’s defenders immediately declared the Russia collusion story over. Surely bombing Putin’s best friend in the Middle East was proof that the president is not the Kremlin’s puppet. Unfortunately, the reality is that the president could bomb the Kremlin while Putin is in the building and his opponents will still accuse him of being his puppet. The only way to silence his accusers is to ignore them and demonstrate to the American people that a collaborative relationship with Russia produces positive results. The president should host Putin for a summit in DC and possibly travel to Russia for an additional summit. First on the list must be bringing an end to the Syrian civil war. Once Americans see an end to the migration crisis destabilizing Europe, the protection of thousands of Christians, and an end to ISIS, they will turn a deaf ear to the voices still pretending the Cold War is ongoing.
Step #2 – Immediately fire Rod Rosenstein and find a graceful exit for Jeff Sessions
Rod Rosenstein can barely contain his glee as he makes the media rounds. After all, he is the one who delivered the swamp’s most cherished wish: the special counsel. How someone like Rosenstein, a pure creature of Washington, came to be selected for the #2 spot in the Justice Department is something to be later determined. For now, the top priority is to fire him immediately, before he can deliver more death blows to the administration. Ideally, Jeff Sessions would reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and repair the damage he has caused by showing Mueller the door – but that is unlikely to happen, since Sessions seems more interested in preserving his reputation among his colleagues than protecting the Trump administration from partisan attacks. The second-best option is to entice Sessions to leave his post as Attorney General by offering him a plum position at the White House or a future nomination to the Supreme Court. If a graceful exit is not possible, Trump needs to remove Sessions and replace him with someone willing and able to help the president implement his agenda. Perhaps someone like Greg Abbott, the current governor of Texas, who was not involved in the Trump campaign and has the same conservative record as Sessions, would fit the bill — or maybe Kris Kobach of Kansas, who has shown himself to be a tough fighter who will not falter under pressure.
Step #3 – Offer pardons to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort
Of all the steps I am suggesting, this is the most delicate to navigate, since issuing pardons implies underlying criminal activity. At the same time, the constitutional power to pardon could be an effective weapon in turning the current investigation into a pointless exercise. Offering pardons to both Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort would send a clear signal that the president is willing to go the extra mile to bring an end to the Russia hysteria that has overtaken Washington. In the case of Michael Flynn, the Trump Administration should also consider bringing him back into his inner circle as a way to rectify one of the major mistakes the administration made by serving a coveted scalp to the swamp. Besides, Flynn returning to the White House is certain to cause the president’s critics to overreact and make the use of the pardon more palatable to the American people. Should the president choose to take this course, it absolutely critical that the president makes clear that his hand was forced in the face of endless investigations that would paralyze the government for the next three years – something the country simply cannot afford.
Step #4 – Put pressure on Congressional Republicans to end the hearings on Russia
I cannot speak for all Trump supporters, but I seriously doubt any of them voted for Republicans down-ballot so that they could drag the president’s family to testify before Congress – or waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money to provide the Democrats platforms from which espouse their conspiracy theories. Trump needs to urge his supporters to call Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and demand they put an end to the congressional investigations. Some have suggested that Republicans should instead focus their hearings on the allegations of unmasking, surveillance or illegal leaks. But that would be another waste of time. Under the Obama Administration, Republicans held countless hearings on Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious, and other scandals that led them nowhere. No one was ever held accountable, much less prosecuted. If there is evidence of any wrongdoing, the Justice Department under new management should be conducting the investigation. Congress needs to focus on issues that Americans outside the Beltway care about: higher wages, lower healthcare costs and security.
Whether all or any of the steps suggested are undertaken, the president and the special counsel are on a collision course. If Mueller is allowed to proceed, he will continue to expand the investigation, demand records and more records until Trump pushes back, as he surely will. A confrontation and a potential constitutional crisis can only be avoided by ending the investigation before subpoenas begin to flood the White House. The president needs to move quickly, as time is running out.
UPDATE: My colleague Alex Knepper responds.