Will Trump Fire Mueller? Get Ready

As we brace for crisis, remember that it'll all come down to a question of trust.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday two sources who believe the president is about to fire US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.

“It’s a matter of when, not if,” said one person who has discussed the matter with Mr. Trump.

“Eventually, it will happen,” a second person said, adding that the Cohen raid was “not good for the long-term relationship between the president and Sessions and Rosenstein.

A couple of thoughts as we anticipate the unthinkable. One is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will not end. Just because the top cop is gone doesn’t mean detectives stop working. It may go dormant, but others will step in. How that pans out, I don’t know. My point is that presidents have limited power, even if abused. Moreover, a bipartisan bill is in the US Senate now that may limit that power more.

The other thought is that everything about a constitutional crisis of this magnitude will boil down to trust. Reactions by the Democrats and the Republicans in the Congress will be based on their respective readings of the electorate’s trust: does it believe the president more than it believes in the rule of law and law enforcement institutions? My gut tells me Trump is on the losing side of that question.

Most people most of the time do not have the means to assess the evidence of an inquiry on their own (nor should they), so they rely sensibly on short cuts, like trusting that the FBI will usually do the right thing. Moreover, most people most of them understand at least in part that Donald Trump is indifferent to the truth.

Increasing the odds against Trump is James Comey. The fired FBI director has since leaving his post last summer written a book to be released Tuesday. Major media outlets have gotten copies. From the looks of it, Comey has anticipated what I just described: that whatever crisis we face will boil down to the people’s trust.

Michiko Kakutani’s review adopts Comey’s framing. One of these men, she says, is “an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called ‘deep state’ who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution. The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law.”

She goes on.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying. […]

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world.

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Yes, a majority of Republicans are doubtful of Mueller’s inquiry, but so were Republicans right up to the moment Richard Nixon resigned. Meanwhile, Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan aren’t sticking around. And even if Republican voters don’t like Mueller, they can’t be relied on to show up for November’s midterms.

Trust is central not only to democracy, but to any con man’s success. He’s only as strong as his marks believe he is. Once that trust is gone, the con is over.