Did Rosenstein do Trump a favor?

Eli Lake argues that Rod Rosenstein did President Trump a favor by appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation. Lake says the appointment has quieted a crisis that was consuming Trump’s presidency.

He may be right. Certainly, Rosenstein’s move will serve the administration’s short term interests — as well as Rosenstein’s, who suddenly was under vicious attack for doing no more than writing a memo about James Comey that echoed Democratic talking points regarding the former FBI director.

But what about the long term effect of another excursion with a prosecutor tied loosely (at best) to the usual chain of command? Past excursions, whether with Ken Starr, Patrick Fitzgerald, or James Comey, haven’t ended well for the administration involved.

Mueller has a fine reputation, to be sure. But so did Starr, Fitzgerald, and Comey when their excursions began. (So did Rosenstein until he wrote what should have been an unobjectionable memo about Comey.)

The real issue, though, is not whether Rosenstein did Trump a favor; it’s whether he did the nation a favor. I’m not convinced that he did.

The nation’s primary interest is in a good, fair investigation — one that gets the facts and addresses any wrongdoing uncovered, but doesn’t become a quest for scalps. Rosenstein could have accomplished this through the normal process (not a “special” one) by making sure Trump appointed a quality FBI director and making sure that director was able to do his job without interference. Appointing a special counsel increases the likelihood of a witch hunt.

The nation (unlike the Democrats) has an interest in not seeing the Trump presidency “consumed” by allegations of scandal. This could too could have been accomplished by appointing a quality FBI director, assuming that panicking congressional Republicans kept their nerve and that President Trump stopped tweeting about the matter and moved on. Under these assumptions, the storm would have quieted sufficiently to avoid Trump’s presidency being consumed.

These, though, are big assumptions. So maybe Lake is right after all. Time (probably a few years of it) will tell.

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