Why Trump Is Still Fighting Mueller

It's less about 2020 than about validating his presidency.

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I learned a valuable lesson recently. I should always read the primary source before writing commentary that’s based on a secondary source. (My scholarly friends are probably slapping their foreheads; sorry, guys, I never said I was a fast learner!) 

I read in the Post last week about the memo of the July 25 phone call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky. This, of course, is the smoking gun now underscoring the Democrats’ commitment to indicting the president this fall. I wrote about the memo before reading it. As a result, I ended up repeating as true something I later believed was not quite true. I don’t mean the Post got it wrong. I mean the paper identified something as unimportant that I suspect now may be central to everything. 


The president’s chief aim, I suspect, is using the government to control how we think.


As you know, the memo shows Trump asking the Ukrainian president for a “favor”: “investigate” Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The memo also shows the president talking about some kind of “conspiracy theory,” according to the Post, regarding either Hillary Clinton’s private email server or the Democratic National Committee’s email server. It’s not clear which. Trump says: “The server, they say Ukraine has it.” 

Most of the reporting from that fateful day focused on the apparent quid pro quo: Dig up dirt on my closest rival and I’ll do something for you in return. That something, the memo suggested, was either meeting with Zelensky or releasing nearly $400 million in security aid in support of the Ukraine’s land battle with its powerful neighbor, Russia. (It’s not clear in the memo which it is, but anyway both happened.) In light of subsequent reporting this week, that “conspiracy theory” might not be some wacky stuff Trump heard on “Hannity.” It might turn out to be at the heart of it all.

Years from now we may look back with greater clarity as to what Trump’s principal objective was. It’s not digging up dirt on his closest rival to win 2020 (though that, of course, matters greatly). His principal objective appears to be validating his presidency by framing his enemies for his own crimes. (Biden is one of his enemies.) As MSNBC’s Richard Stengel wrote Tuesday: “Trump is attempting to turn the whole executive branch into an American version of [Russia’s] GRU and the Internet Research Agency to come up with a narrative that rebuts the idea that he is an illegitimate president.”

The chief conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was that the Russians attacked our sovereignty by moving public opinion in key states against Trump’s Democratic opponent. Unsaid in Muller’s report, but abundantly clear, is that Trump’s victory is the direct result of getting assistance from a foreign government, the very same crime soon to be the focus of a House impeachment inquiry. Mueller’s explicit and implicit conclusions have always enraged Trump. They made his worst fear come true: many, though I would say most, Americans do not see him as a legitimate leader.


In this story, Trump is the original victim and the ultimate hero in ferreting out “corruption” and the anonymous traitors of “the deep state.”


Thanks to reporting Monday in the Times and the Post, we now know the extent to which he is willing to go to undermine Mueller, to discredit law enforcement and national security agencies, and to rewrite virtually the history of our understanding of the 2016 election in order to legitimize his victory but also, to a certain degree (it should be said outright) to shield Russia’s Vladimir Putin from greater global scrutiny.

The president is using America’s international prestige to press foreign leaders—first it was the Ukrainians, now it’s the Australians, perhaps later it will be the Italians—into helping US Attorney General Bill Barr “investigate” the “origins” of the Mueller investigation in order to write a new narrative to replace the old one. What started as “conspiracy theory” may in time reveal the real machinations of a real conspiracy.

In this story, it wasn’t the Russians who attacked in 2016 but Ukrainian insurgents, and it wasn’t the president who collaborated in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people but his enemies. In this story, Trump is the original victim and the ultimate hero in ferreting out “corruption” and the anonymous traitors of “the deep state.” That Joe Biden is caught up in all this may just be a happy coincidence. The president’s chief aim, I suspect, is using the government to control how we think. Most Americans refuse to consent to Trump’s rule, but the president is going to do everything in his power to force us to, even if that means conspiring against us.

Lesson learned: always read primary sources before commenting.

I’m a slow learner but I get there eventually. 

—John Stoehr


Editor’s note

We’re all going to talking about impeachment for a while. For that reason, I’m going to make the Editorial Board free as often as I can. But please help by becoming a financial supporter of the Editorial Board. If you’re not yet a supporter, please click the red button. (If you’re not sure if you already are, please click the red button.) Thanks! —JS