Donald Trump seems determined to create his own Watergate crisis.
While the probe into Russia election meddling and any ties to the Trump campaign can’t yet legitimately be called a scandal – a characterization which should require a finding of actual wrongdoing – it’s definitely a crisis. It has consumed the first six months of the Trump presidency.
Yet, Mr. Trump appears intent on making it into a scandal.
First he fired FBI Director James Comey in the midst of that agency’s investigation. Now Mr. Trump is trashing Attorney General Jeff Sessions – his earliest and most ardent campaign supporter from Washington, D.C. – for having recused himself in the Russia matter.
There’s also speculation Trump is spoiling to fire Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, and perhaps Sessions and his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
News reports indicate the president and his legal team also have even been talking the “P” word: pardons. Perhaps even a presidential self-pardon.
That last allegation is unsubstantiated and unattributed, and given the unreliability of other anonymous claims in this affair, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, would it be all that surprising if true? In seeking to blunt this inquiry at every turn, the president is continuously behaving as if there is, indeed, a scandal to be unearthed.
If there isn’t, then the president should laugh it off and go on with the nation’s business. He should resist the temptation to engage in or obsess about the investigation, or certainly to impede it.
We understand how the president could be frustrated, given how Mueller is said to be expanding his probe into Trump business dealings. Unless the special counsel is in possession of hard evidence of Trump family business that has relevance to the Russia question, it’s nothing but a fishing expedition. We would hope Mr. Mueller would be above that.
But as for the president’s open hostility toward his attorney general, that just makes no rational sense. Again, Mr. Sessions was on the Trump bandwagon long before it picked up steam.
As for Sessions recusing himself from the Russia probe, what else was he to do? When the investigation turned to questions of the Trump campaign, Sessions was a prominent face of it. No one should be asked or allowed to essentially investigate himself or his close comrades.
And in suggesting that he wouldn’t have appointed Sessions if he’d known about the coming recusal, Mr. Trump appears to suggest he wants to retain oversight over the Russia probe of his own campaign. See last paragraph, last sentence.
For his part, Sessions was ever the gentleman and faithful soldier, despite the president’s bizarre upbraiding of him in a New York Times interview.
“We inside this Department of Justice will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interest and to wholeheartedly join in the priorities of President Trump,” Sessions said.
Whether Trump likes it or not, apparently.
Ominously, Sessions said, “I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
Notice he didn’t say, “as long as the president wants me.” Could that mean that, at some point, Sessions might decide for himself that he’s had enough abuse from a president he’s both supported and served? What if Sessions or others in the president’s Cabinet make such a calcuation and resign?
The answer, frighteningly enough, is a Nixonian scandal of the president’s own making.