An intriguing pattern is developing: President Trump resolves to strike a blow against the Russia investigation. He enlists his people in developing a rationale for his pending action that disguises its real motive. He carries out the act. He releases a carefully vetted statement elaborating that fake rationale. He then blows up the fake rationale by forthrightly declaring in a freewheeling interview that the act was really about the Russia probe all along.
The latest example of this: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday night, Trump openly declared that his revocation of former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance was actually about the Russia investigation.
The detailed statement that the White House released Wednesday to justify this act only referred obliquely to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, insisting Brennan had misrepresented the importance of the “Steele dossier” to the investigation. (This was the latest in a dishonest effort to spin that dossier as proof the probe is tainted. In fact, independent reporting confirmed its genesis was legitimately based on other information.) The statement’s reasons were that Brennan publicly criticized the administration — this was stated openly — but also, absurdly, that this fact helps our “adversaries” to “sow division.” The statement also argued that Brennan’s “erratic” behavior poses “risks” that disqualify him from holding clearance.
The last two of those are straight up falsehoods. If anything, public criticism of Trump’s posture toward Russia makes it politically harder for him to do nothing about the next round of Russian efforts to “sow division” via more electoral sabotage. The “risk” from Brennan, then, is only a political risk to Trump, which isn’t disqualifying.
Regardless, in his interview with the Journal, Trump blurted out what is really going on here:
Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation …
“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “And these people led it!”
He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”
In saying this, Trump tied his revocation directly to his claim that Brennan was one of the people behind the investigation that ultimately became the Mueller probe. This is an explicit declaration that the revocation was driven by a desire to strike a blow against the investigation.
Sound familiar? It should. It harkens back to Trump’s admission of the real reason he fired former FBI director James B. Comey. Trump originally floated as his fake rationale the memo authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, which criticized Comey’s unfairness to Hillary Clinton during the email investigation. This was absurd — Trump seized on Comey’s public July 2016 criticism of Clinton as ammunition against her — but then Trump admitted on national television that he had actually fired Comey over anger at the Russia investigation.
Why Trump keeps blurting out his real motive
Why does Trump keep admitting to his real motive in such cases? The best answer is that Trump sees nothing whatsoever wrong with trying to derail the investigation.
Trump and the White House have repeatedly described his efforts to scuttle the investigation as “fighting back.” By all indications, Trump’s stated belief that his attorney general’s proper function is to defend him from the probe — and his rage at Jeff Sessions for failing to carry out that task — appear entirely heartfelt. He plainly believes it would be entirely within his rights to remove Mueller if he could get away with it, and he has only backed off his efforts to do this when faced with internal resistance. Trump has told us, over and over, that he views law enforcement as merely an instrument of his political will, and the totality of his behavior underscores that he simply doesn’t believe rules and laws should apply to him.
The most charitable interpretation of Trump’s posture is that he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong and that the probe really is illegitimate, justifying his efforts to scuttle it. But even this would not be exonerating. Trump has openly declared that Donald Trump Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting was just fine. But if Trump actually believes this, it is damning, because there is something wrong with it: Don Jr. was eager to conspire with a hostile foreign power to corrupt our election to help his father. And even if Trump sincerely believes his campaign did nothing wrong, he is still trying to scuttle a full accounting of that adversary’s effort to sabotage our democracy — irrespective of his own campaign’s role in that effort — which makes more sabotage later more likely.
A worrisome endgame
Trump, of course, does not recognize that there are good institutional reasons to refrain from trying to derail the investigation even if he does think he did nothing wrong. That’s why it is so worrisome that Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani has now told The Post that he will fight a subpoena for a Mueller interview all the way to the Supreme Court. This is an extremely important detail:
Giuliani said the Trump legal team, which briefed Trump last week, is mapping out a subpoena battle that could stretch on for months.
“Even if we responded in 10 days to a subpoena, it would have to be decided by a district court judge, and you could appeal it in a circuit court, and then you argue it before the Supreme Court, if it ever got there,” he said.
This timetable raises the possibility that Trump’s team could try to drag this out to the point at which Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh is on the high court when the battle over Mueller’s subpoena reaches it. There is a strong public interest in seeing Trump answer questions about all of these matters. But Trump has no sense of any obligation to the public of any kind. And if Trump sees nothing wrong with hobbling the probe by any means he can get away with, why would he refrain from trying to get away with this, as well?