The FBI raids on Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen yesterday bring the Democrats’ synthetic Trump-Russia collusion scandal to a critical moment. President Trump went out of his way to demonstrate his response at a photo opportunity for the press preceding deliberations over his response to the chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces (as it seems to have been) on the regime’s opponents in Syria. Trump was livid. He seethed with anger. The New York Times has posted an annotated transcript of his remarks yesterday here.
We’ve never seen anything quite like the raids on the president’s lawyer. We have arrived at a watershed.
Trump reiterated his displeasure with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Have I mentioned Robert Mueller? He’s not happy with him either. “It’s a total witch hunt,” he said. He used the words “disgrace” and “disgraceful” nine times. The repetition was for emphasis, but it reflected the depth of his feelings.
Trump takes it personally. Among the documents seized yesterday are attorney-client communications between Trump and Cohen. The FBI now has possession of a raft of Cohen’s and Trump’s communications with each other. And the officials responsible for yesterday’s events are, after all, his appointees (Sessions included, Mueller excluded).
Trump reiterated another point. He didn’t collude. There was no collusion, at least on his part. “They found no collusion whatsoever with Russia, the reason they found it is there was no collusion at all,” he said. “No collusion.”
As far as we know, Trump has a point. They’re looking for collusion in all the wrong places.
Trump is inclined to respond with personnel moves. He wants to hire and fire, or fire and hire. These are the terms with which he is familiar.
Trump’s remarks have me reviewing the Department of Justice organization chart, Trump’s March 2017 executive order “on providing an order of succession within the Department of Justice,” and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. But can the problem Trump faces be resolved with personnel moves? I think it extremely unlikely. Sacking Rosenstein, for example, won’t solve the Mueller problem. Sacking Mueller won’s solve the Special Counsel problem.
What can Trump do to resolve the problem as he sees it? He can use his pardon power to shut down Mueller’s prosecutions and leave him on board to continue his collusion investigation. He could use it to pardon all of Mueller’s cases that extend beyond the collusion investigation. At this point, that is all of them. He could pardon Flynn. He could pardon Manafort. He could pardon Gates. He could pardon Cohen.
In doing so, he could cite the precedent of the six Bush (41) pardons that shut down the prosecution of Caspar Weinberger. The New York Times put it this way at the time in December 1992, as President Bush was preparing to leave office: “[I]n a single stroke, Mr. Bush swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort, which began in 1986.”
The virtue of this approach, or some variation of it, is that it would be effective. It might even have the least detrimental political impact. The sense of it is manifest and I can’t think of anything else that might do the job.