The past 24 hours have been relatively calm on the political front, probably a good thing for the perennially embattled Donald Trump, whose staff could use a good break from the festival of misdirection and dissembling that has quickly become the daily chore for them.
…oh wait, I must be thinking of a different 24 hours. These past 24 hours have been an absolute blizzard of news. Let’s run down all of what’s going on and how much it will or won’t matter in the long term.
• The Washington Post secured a leaked audiotape of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressing his view that Trump was on Putin’s payroll. He is shushed on the tape by Paul Ryan, who enjoins those involved in the conversation to secrecy on the basis that they are “family.” Expect a horse head at WaPo head office shortly.
Is it relevant: from an investigative standpoint, no. McCarthy and Ryan have already asserted that it was said as a joke, and in any event the quote doesn’t present either McCarthy or Ryan treating it as a factual and provable statement, merely as McCarthy’s belief and Ryan’s discomfort with a Republican giving voice to those thoughts. From a PR standpoint, now… that’s pretty ugly, and I feel certain it will come back to haunt one or both of these men down the line.
• The Justice Department, at the direction of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This will likely double the length of his Wikipedia page before all is said and done. Mueller served in the position for 12 years under two presidents and is seen as a suitable and tough choice for the role.
Is it relevant: by definition, this stands the highest chance of being relevant purely because it represents a top-flight investigator being tasked to take on this question. We can’t reasonably say whether he’ll find anything (though odds are good that something will turn up) but arguably the bigger question is whether Mueller’s investigation will be able to connect the dots straight up to Trump himself. On that point, I reserve the right to be skeptical. Two things are certain, however: firstly, that whatever Mueller finds, there must be political will present to act on those findings; and secondly, that whether or not Mueller finds anything, his mere appointment has antagonized and rattled Trump. If the White House was hoping to get past the Russia inquiry quietly, they’re in for severe disappointment.
• In response to Trump threatening to leak Schroedinger-esque “tapes” to keep Comey quiet, an official FBI memo from Comey has appeared which documents that Trump asked Comey to make the Michael Flynn investigation go away. It comes with a handy timeline indicating that at the time Trump made this request, he was already aware that Flynn had a conflict of interest due to ties to foreign nations, Flynn having personally told him so prior to being appointed.
Is it relevant: oh good gravy is it ever. Unlike much of what’s been brewing of late around Trump and his minions, the Comey memo directly implicates Trump, personally, in attempted obstruction of justice. While almost certainly insufficient to warrant charges against Trump, it fuels investigations into his dealings on the Comey affair and will likely be an important evidentiary stepping stone for some future scandal. Mind you, when one says “future scandal” under the current administration… it’s kind of like saying “next Monday.”
• Ex-Fox News chief Roger Ailes, aged 77, has passed away. Ailes was forced out at Fox News due to a string of sexual harassment allegations.
Is it relevant: only if you’re a conspiracy buff. It might distract some attention away from the tempest of revelations swirling over Washington today, but one can’t imagine it will for very long.
In other news, Republicans took this opportunity to hide in droves from the news cameras. I can’t blame them, since anyone foolish enough to attempt to speak on Trump’s behalf will be the first one with egg on their face, courtesy of the man himself and his Twitter account. Even eternal wannabe mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway cancelled an appearance on Fox News in the wake of the Mueller announcement. When Conway refuses to go out and snidely leap on her sword for Trump…
It’s good to note that Mike Pence, professional abominable person, is also caught up in this now: he’s been backing Trump in the wrong ways and on the wrong topics, and now he’s wearing some of the Flynn debacle too. Don’t count him out just yet; next to his showboat boss Pence is still a flavorless afterthought and the American people might let him off with a shrug.
So that’s our Wednesday. Who knows how much more self-inflicted damage Trump aspires to before the end of the week? Oh… here it is, he says this is a witch hunt. I don’t know about you, but I can’t be alone in thinking some witch hunt methodology would be perfectly acceptable in this circumstance.