Jan 25, 2018

Trump's "everyone's dirty" strategy

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

We're getting a vivid preview of how President Trump and his conservative allies will likely fight Robert Mueller if he accuses POTUS of obstructing justice, by firing James Comey/pressuring the FBI.

The chief attack: Mueller, the roots of his investigation and the FBI aren't on the level — and haven’t been since even before he took office. 

  • A longtime Trump political associate told me: "Using the Clinton-Starr playbook, kill the special investigator and obfuscate the charge. ... This is the Government against the People’s President. It is an easy narrative.”
  • Conservative media is exploding with stories/conspiracies about rampant corruption at the FBI and a “secret society” to undermine Trump and protect Hillary Clinton.
  • Conservative columnist Noah Rothman on Twitter yesterday: “I've done two conservative radio shows today playing a generally adversarial role in defense of the FBI. The grassroots is eating up the notion Trump is a victim of systemic corruption in law enforcement.”

Lots of attention is being paid to Trump's comments yesterday that he's willing to be interviewed under oath, and deservedly so.

  • But Trump's key line from yesterday's impromptu West Wing availability might be this, as the WashPost's Devlin Barrett notes: “Now they're saying, 'Oh well, did he fight back?' ... You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction."
  • Fox's Sean Hannity continued to build a narrative of an anti-Trump strain in the FBI when he reported this "game-changing development" last night: "[T]he Department of Justice has started to recover some of the five months' worth of missing text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and ... Lisa Page."

The "everyone's dirty" scenario is less a coordinated strategy — with careful planning involved — than it is a reflection of Trump's genuine belief that the intelligence community is out to get him, Axios' Jonathan Swan points out:

  • Trump's right-wing base authentically believes the same, and sees the missing FBI text messages as evidence that there’s a Deep State out to get Trump.
  • Behind the scenes, Trump has been obsessing over the texts. He talks to plenty of people in his out-of-office hours, and in the residence, who fuel his sense that the intelligence community is populated by enemies out to get him — who are trying to engineer a coup and nullify his presidency.
  • Donald Jr. tops this list. 
  • Remember, one of the reasons Trump bonded so tight with Michael Flynn was their shared penchant for conspiratorial thinking. Flynn would use his many hours by Trump’s side on the campaign to fill his ears with his bitter analysis of Obama’s intelligence apparatus. 

Be smart: Trump has created “reasonable doubt” about Mueller’s investigation among a significant portion of the GOP base — enough that he may have already won his case with the “jury” that matters most to him and his political future.   

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