This post has been updated.
Last week, President Trump assured us that he wasn't involved in his attorney Michael Cohen's alleged hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. But after Cohen's office was raided Monday, Trump suddenly seemed to know enough about the situation to declare the raid a farce.
Trump asserted via Twitter on Tuesday morning that “attorney-client privilege is dead!” But attorney-client privilege contains a very important exception: for when crimes are committed. What's more, Trump said he wasn't involved in the payment and therefore wouldn't know about any crimes and the situation wouldn't seem to involve attorney-client communications.
The quickly rendered judgment about attorney-client privilege is a case in point of the desperation of Trump's response to the Cohen raid. It was emotional, prejudicial and somewhat nonsensical. And it suggested that Trump will say basically anything to try to delegitimize the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and rally his base for the aftermath.
(Monday's raid was carried out by the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, rather than Mueller, but Mueller provided a referral based upon evidence collected in his investigation.)
That has always been the case with Trump; it really has been a matter of degree. And Trump on Monday night turned it up to 11.
He called the Cohen situation a “disgrace.” He called Mueller's investigators “the most conflicted group of people I've ever seen” and said they were engaged in an “attack on our country.” He left open the possibility of firing Mueller and walked up to the edge of talking about firing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. He even blamed the Cohen raid for tanking the stock market — despite his own threat of tariffs having tanked the stock market for the past several weeks.
In a few minutes, he did basically everything those around him had prevailed upon him to avoid in his public rhetoric. Although he has called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” many times (and did so again Monday night and Tuesday morning), his suggestion that Mueller's team is engaged in an “attack on our country” is taking things to an entirely new level. It implies they are not just overzealous but perhaps unpatriotic or even treasonous. And if Trump continues in that vein, we've reached a whole new level of ugliness in this matter.
You could say the same if Trump tried to fire Mueller and/or Rosenstein. He already has attempted to fire Mueller, but Republicans had insisted during another flare-up a few weeks ago that this was off the table. Trump has now put it back on the table and made the Republicans who suggested that he wouldn't try to fire Mueller a second time eat their words. There's really no credible argument anymore that this is beyond the realm of possibility, and Republicans who said months ago that Mueller needed to be protected via legislation are now in a position of actually putting their money where their mouths are (or, at least, were).
This whole thing has never been headed for a neat and tidy conclusion. Trump is a counterpuncher with little regard for institutional norms or political correctness. His presidency has always been about emotion and a sense of persecution rather than provable facts and logical arguments. And the Mueller investigation is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, uniting all of that in one big, extremely high-stakes investigation. The closer this gets to Trump personally and the more trouble Trump thinks he might be in, the more he's going to lash out.
And judging by his reaction on Monday night, we may not have seen anything yet.