THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump is so enraged by the FBI raid of his lawyer’s office and home, The Post reports, that he is leaning against sitting for an interview with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump’s lawyers are still open to the interview, but Trump is “deeply rattled” by what has been done to Michael Cohen, so his legal team “now views a Mueller sit-down as less likely.”
Here’s how The Post describes Trump’s thinking:
Trump was infuriated by the seizure of possibly sensitive correspondence involving work that Cohen — his close friend, consigliere and personal “fixer” — was doing on his behalf and believed Mueller’s team was operating in bad faith, two people familiar with the president’s frustration said. …
The raid alarmed and angered Trump and led to a tense afternoon meeting between Trump advisers and Mueller’s team, according to one person familiar with the talks. The president viewed the raid on his personal attorney as a breach of his team’s cordial working relationship with Mueller’s investigators and swiftly turned on them, another person said.
As always, there is a temptation to dismiss what Trump says or reportedly thinks as mere bluster, but here once again, this actually means something significant. Trump’s view that he’s being treated unfairly hints at his actual view of how the law should treat him, which is to say, that it shouldn’t apply to him at all.
Of course, it is absurd that Trump, of all people, is lodging an accusation of bad faith in this context. Trump has entertained the idea of firing Mueller and even unsuccessfully ordered his White House counsel to carry out the deed. Trump tried to hound Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job while raging that Sessions had recused himself instead of protecting Trump from the investigation.
In December, Trump again told his advisers that he wanted Mueller’s probe shut down. This year, Trump released the bad-faith-saturated Nunes memo, to give himself pretext to possibly remove Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, apparently to install a loyalist to oversee the probe instead. Trump has attacked the investigation as “corrupt” and a “witch hunt” and has relentlessly lied to create the impression that law enforcement is riddled with corruption to its core. Trump recently suggested publicly that he might fire Mueller.
On Wednesday, Trump claimed that he didn’t fire FBI Director James B. Comey “because of the phony Russia investigation,” even though he previously confirmed precisely the contrary on national television. The notion that Trump is the sudden victim amid what had been a “cordial working relationship” with Mueller is just delusional.
But beyond that, Trump’s belief that the raid on Cohen betrays Mueller’s bad faith is revealing in another way.
In an interview, former prosecutor Renato Mariotti pointed out that to search Cohen’s home and office, the feds needed to get a warrant — and the fact that it was awarded suggests there was good reason to conduct the search.
“What it means is that a judge found that there is good reason to believe that a crime occurred, and that evidence of that particular crime would be found in Cohen’s home and office,” Mariotti said. “The judge had to make that finding.”
Conservative legal writer Andrew McCarthy, a skeptic of the Russia probe, has similarly argued that the very fact that prosecutors sought to raid a lawyer’s office suggests that they are examining potentially serious crimes, such as “conspiracy to commit fraud and extortion” to silence “potentially compromising sources” who were in a position to discuss Trump’s alleged affairs, which could implicate Trump himself. (As the New York Times noted, a warrant was granted to prosecutors working separately from Mueller to search for all documents relating to Cohen’s efforts to “suppress negative publicity ahead of the 2016 election.”)
Seeking a warrant is “what the law wants law enforcement to do,” Mariotti said. “What is bad faith about going to a judge and getting a warrant?” Mariotti noted that it is possible to seek a warrant in bad faith, say, by lying to a judge, but that this hadn’t been demonstrated or even alleged.
Trump cares about the integrity of the legal process, but only as it applies to him. His rage over the raiding of his lawyer’s office betrays a double standard toward due process, given that he cheers on law enforcement abuse directed at Muslims, immigrants and African Americans. Trump is entertaining firing Rosenstein for the express reason that Rosenstein is conducting himself by the book, rather than politicizing law enforcement to Trump’s benefit. When Comey violated protocol to criticize Hillary Clinton while ending the probe into her emails, Trump seized on it to savage her at the time, and then recently used it as a phony pretext to fire Comey to derail legitimate scrutiny of himself.
Trump’s real objection to the raid on Cohen isn’t that law enforcement is victimizing him by abusing the process. It’s that legitimate law enforcement scrutiny is being applied to him.
* ANOTHER ONE OF TRUMP’S ‘BUFFERS’ IS GONE: The New York Times reports that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wanted congressional approval for the strikes on Syria but was overruled by Trump. And:
Until this month, Mr. Mattis had a buffer at the White House in the former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who often deferred to the defense secretary, a retired four-star Marine general. The arrival of Mr. Trump’s new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, means that buffer is gone. Administration and congressional officials said the hawkish Mr. Bolton is not expected to defer to the defense secretary.
This is the worst possible time for fewer buffers, with Trump increasingly prone to fits of panic and rage about the Mueller probe.
* CIA DIRECTOR’S SECRET MEETING WITH NORTH KOREA: The Post scoops that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who Trump has tapped as his next secretary of state, held a top-secret meeting with North Korea’s leader:
The extraordinary meeting between one of Trump’s most trusted emissaries and the authoritarian head of a rogue state was part of an effort to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the highly classified nature of the talks.
Trump just confirmed the meeting on Twitter, insisting that the meeting “went very smoothly” and that the details of the summit “are being worked out now.” Let’s hope he’s right.
* DEMS HOPE TO CLEAN UP IN ARIZONA: Democrats don’t think their candidate, Hiral Tipirneni, will win next week’s special House election in Arizona, because Trump won the district by 21 points. But CNN explains:
They … hope the race can be used as an indicator of what to expect in Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s key Senate race later this year. Their thinking goes like this: If Tipirneni can keep it close with Lesko in a district that Trump won by more than 20 points, Democrats stand to make significant gains in the state later this year given Trump only won Arizona overall by roughly 3 points in 2016.
If Dems can win a Senate seat in Arizona, and one in Nevada, they have at least a shot at flipping the Senate. As CNN notes, the bigger story here is that Arizona has long-term potential for Dems.
* REPUBLICANS PANIC ABOUT TAX LAW’S UNPOPULARITY: The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports that Republicans are worried about the tax law’s “sagging approval ratings.” Note this, from National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Steve Stivers:
“People aren’t talking about it enough, and when people aren’t talking about it enough, that’s a problem. … Our guys need to be talking about the tax bill more.”
Huh. But why aren’t Republicans talking to their constituents about the tax bill more? Maybe because that doesn’t work, either?
* DEM CANDIDATE IN TENNESSEE RIPS GOP TAX PLAN: The Times reports on the Tennessee Senate race, where popular former governor Phil Bredesen has at least a chance of beating GOP candidate Marsha Blackburn. Note this Bredesen quote:
“I think they did something which was clever politically, but I couldn’t have swallowed morally, which is I think they threw a few crumbs to the middle class to give these huge breaks to wealthier people and corporations and so on. And I think I would have called that out as strongly as I possibly could have.”
It will be interesting to see how criticism of the Trump/GOP tax law is playing in this deep-red, very-Trump-friendly state, given that it’s the centerpiece of the GOP strategy.
* STORMY DANIELS GETS THE AIRTIME: Axios reports that data from GDELT, a service that monitors TV coverage, show that Stormy Daniels is getting more coverage than either the GOP tax law or the Dem message on health-care reform.
Axios says this is a blow to both parties. But in reality, it’s probably worse for the GOP, since the tax law is the GOP lifeline, Dems are already energized and coverage of Trump’s female accusers can’t help Republicans.
* AND HANNITY IS TRUMP’S ‘SHADOW’ CHIEF OF STAFF: The Post dives deep into the relationship between Trump and Fox News’s Sean Hannity:
The phone calls … come early in the morning or late at night. … They discuss ideas for Hannity’s show, Trump’s frustration with the ongoing special counsel probe and even, at times, what the president should tweet. … Advisers, at times, refer to Hannity as the “shadow” chief of staff. … Whenever Trump is irritated by his staff, he turns to outside allies, and Hannity is usually atop the call list.
And, of course, Trump prizes Hannity because Hannity offers Trump what he really needs most right now: loyalty, and a shoulder to rage on.