The story that was disseminated by Trump’s media circus surrogates
when General John Kelly took over from the beleaguered ex White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, was that Kelly was going act as a judicious gatekeeper, limiting access to the Oval Office. The cherry on top would be that the chaos and confused messaging was going to be brought under control and Kelly would be a sobering influence on Donald Trump.
From all we can see, Kelly may have accomplished the former to one degree or another, but has had virtually no effect on the latter. It could be argued that some external circumstances outside of his control are making his job nigh on impossible.
A great deal of those external circumstances are the ongoing work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his investigation of a wide range of possible criminal activity by Trump operatives during the campaign and within the White House after the election and the indictments that are products of that investigation.
Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair alleges that he has sources within the White House that have informed him that not only are various administration officers lawyering up and taking precautions (perhaps after the fact) to insulate themselves from legal and criminal exposure, but that Trump is lashing out in angst and frustration at all sorts of targets in the West Wing, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Adding to Kushner’s vulnerability as someone Trump could toss to the sharks (and vice versa), is the virtually identical (from a legal standpoint) activities of Kushner, Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. to those of recently indicted campaign advisor and influence broker, George Papadapoulos.
Papadapoulos, as you will recall, has been revealed to have conducted – that is lying to investigators about, efforts to broker contacts between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s administration. The New York Times separately reported that a Russian billionaire with Kremlin ties, Yuri Milner, has invested in a real estate company founded and partly owned by Kushner.
Trump, reportedly has been in phone meetings with Steve Bannon and Roger Stone and the substance of the discussions is that prompted by Bannon and Stone, Trump is furious with Kushner for steering him in the direction of firing erstwhile National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former FBI director James B.Comey.
Since the Vanity Fair piece came out, Trump has continued to lash out in various directions including one that had already come under withering fire from him at various junctures – Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In a brief interchange with reporters on Friday, Trump was asked whether he would consider firing Sessions if the Justice Department didn’t re-launch an already closed investigation on Hillary Clinton.
Trump responded, “I don’t know”, which of course means he hasn’t ruled it out. Speaking with radio talker Larry O’Connor on Thursday, Trump groused about the lack of direct control and authority he has with the Department of Justice.
“The saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” he said. “I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI.”
Trump has apparently been told to look but don’t touch, but he still sees value in using public statements to indicate not only his displeasure but to signal indirectly what it is he wants done. Further reinforcement of his message is evident from the tweets of the last few days, including this:
….This is real collusion and dishonesty. Major violation of Campaign Finance Laws and Money Laundering – where is our Justice Department?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
“Where is our Justice Department?” What Trump can’t pick up the phone and tell the Attorney General, he thinks he can demand through Twitter.
Jeff Sessions continues to be a handy scapegoat for Trump’s predicament. We have previously documented the meltdowns Trump had in the aftermath of Sessions’ recusal from the Russiagate investigation and again, when assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel.
The first time Trump wanted to fire Sessions – he had to be talked out of doing so by Mike Pence and Reince Priebus. Trump, reportedly is now re-considering the possibility of dismissing Sessions.
Trump, although he seems to understand (at this point at least) that he cannot issue direct orders to the Justice department to launch investigations against individuals on a whim or as a distraction from the problems of his own making, does evidently think he can do so at arm’s length by making his wishes known through public pronouncements and lamentations – such as this one:
“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,” Trump wrote in the first of three tweets. “New Donna B book says she paid for and stole the Dem Primary. What about the deleted E-mails, Uranium, Podesta, the Server, plus, plus … People are angry. At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it! Lets go FBI & Justice Dept.”
How “lets go FBI & Justice Dept” can be mistaken for anything other than an indirect command from Trump, is the million dollar question.
Bannon is chief among Trump’s inner circle of advisors. As such, he is recommending that Trump put into motion an attempt in the House to neuter Bob Mueller, for example by getting a resolution passed to pull funding for Mueller’s ongoing investigation into collusion and obstruction of justice. A resolution sponsored by Republicans Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Louie Gohmert has been launched, citing that Mueller should have stepped in and derailed the Uranium One deal. The authors state that:
“Any thorough and honest investigation into the corruption of American-uranium related business must include investigating the willful blindness of the FBI and its leaders. Goetz added to this, saying, Mr Mueller’s “impartiality is hopelessly compromised. He must step down immediately.”
The only problem with such an attempt is that it is nothing more than a piece of gesture legislation crafted with the design of calming the restive herd of Trump’s core voting base. House Speaker Paul Ryan made that clear on Sunday during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. Responding to a question about the resolution submitted by the three congressmen, Ryan stated:
“We’re not going to interfere with his investigation. The investigation will take its course, and we will let it take its course,” the GOP leader said. Ryan (R-Wis.) also said he believed that President Donald Trump would uphold his repeated pledge not to dismiss Mueller.
That is as clear a signal that Congressional GOP leadership has cut Trump adrift as any you will see.
Trump is solely in control of his own fate. This is apparent even to Steve Bannon, who has reportedly told confidants that if an Amendment 25 scenario unfolds, he doesn’t think based on the surveys he’s conducted that the president even has enough internal support among cabinet members to stay with him aboard the Trump Titanic.