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Trump is succeeding at poisoning the conversation about Mueller

On Sunday, President Donald Trump ...

Posted: May 21, 2018 2:41 PM
Updated: May 21, 2018 2:41 PM

On Sunday, President Donald Trump unleashed a tweetstorm, which culminated with his "demand" for an investigation into whether the FBI tried to infiltrate his campaign. In response, Department of Justice Spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores issued a statement, saying the DOJ would ask its Inspector General to expand its review to address the President's concerns. While Trump's latest move is contentious, it's hardly surprising.

The demand comes after several months, during which Trump has been actively working to delegitimize the Russia investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Rudy Giuliani, who has joined the Trump legal team, backed the President's call for an investigation, said Trump would not agree to an interview with Mueller before learning more about the role of an FBI confidential source who was in contact with people connected to the Trump campaign, and said Mueller had told him the investigation could be wrapped up by September.

Trump's attacks have been effective.

So far, the political tide has turned in his direction. The House Republicans have essentially shut down any pretense of a serious investigation. More Republican voters are saying that they are skeptical about Mueller's inquiry. And much of the news coverage has shifted to claims that Trump has been making about the investigation rather than findings of the investigation itself. To be fair, Mueller has kept a tight lid on the investigation, leaving somewhat of a vacuum in which Trump's criticisms have had free rein.

A president striking back at his investigators is not a new phenomenon. President Bill Clinton was able to paint the Republican Congress as overzealous partisans in 1998 working with a conservative prosecutor, Ken Starr, to bring about his impeachment. President Richard Nixon secretly asked his staff to have the CIA stifle the FBI.

Trump has gone even farther by pushing a story about a dangerous "deep state" trying to subvert an election and suggesting that the investigation is just an effort to destroy his presidency -- using a Republican, Robert Mueller, as the point man.

It will be difficult for the investigators to reverse the damage that has been done. The FBI and DOJ are reluctant to publicly respond in any way that makes them appear political. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is trying to avert a showdown between Justice and the President. Sunday night he announced that the inspector general will investigate. But by tweeting the accusation, the President has already cast the doubt in the public mind.

And when Democrats raise their concerns about what is happening, most Republicans dismiss their warnings as partisanship. Democrats also lack the institutional muscle on Capitol Hill to move forward with their concerns.

At this point, the only foreseeable game changer could be Mueller's final report. He might paint a detailed picture that is so dire and so damning that it fundamentally alters the political dynamics in Washington. But it also might be too late -- regardless of what it says.

By the time that Mueller is finished, Trump might have succeeded in turning the tables on the investigators. He might also be able to make progress on a bold diplomatic agreement with North Korea that would make him look more like Ronald Reagan after he signed the INF Agreement (which eliminated certain types of missiles) with the Soviet Union than the Ronald Reagan under the glare of the Iran Contra scandal.

We live in an age when narratives really matter in politics. The way that the public understands an issue and the stories that the news media focuses on can be crucial to the political outcome of a struggle. As we have learned, the facts don't always win.

This weekend, Trump took his campaign to a new level, and the impact of his statement should not be underestimated.

If the charges that Trump made were based on hard facts and rock-solid evidence, then the right thing would be for the President to rely on the established channels of oversight -- such as the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department -- and handle this allegation outside the purview of the public.

But Trump is interested in politics. What we are seeing is an aggressive use of executive power where the point is not to find out about wrongdoing but to undercut the strength of those whom he sees as his opponents.

Whatever happens to Trump, his attacks on the key institutions of American law enforcement and intelligence agencies could well have a damaging long-term impact, as more of his followers accept the idea that organizations like the FBI can't be trusted.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60553

Reported Deaths: 1703
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5209106
DeSoto328027
Madison228154
Rankin212428
Harrison209832
Jackson192934
Jones176557
Forrest163153
Washington148032
Lauderdale132388
Lee123230
Neshoba119487
Lamar111512
Oktibbeha105235
Lowndes97332
Warren96426
Scott95317
Bolivar93932
Copiah90924
Panola90711
Sunflower90622
Lafayette8699
Holmes84347
Leflore83259
Pike82632
Grenada81220
Yazoo77311
Leake76725
Lincoln74339
Wayne73221
Pontotoc7247
Simpson71126
Monroe69750
Coahoma65910
Tate64523
Marion59918
Adams58025
Covington57811
Winston57115
Marshall5668
George5415
Union51913
Newton51611
Attala49524
Tallahatchie49310
Pearl River48236
Walthall44218
Chickasaw43519
Noxubee41710
Claiborne40013
Smith37713
Jasper3758
Calhoun3748
Clay36814
Alcorn3544
Prentiss3376
Hancock32614
Tishomingo3163
Yalobusha31610
Lawrence3135
Itawamba30710
Tippah30412
Clarke29825
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26911
Tunica2656
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Perry2217
Quitman2211
Amite2105
Jefferson Davis1986
Webster19712
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18712
Sharkey1801
Stone1483
Choctaw1264
Benton1240
Franklin1142
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 88811

Reported Deaths: 1576
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
Etowah191425
DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
Limestone118313
St. Clair118212
Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
Bullock43711
Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
Conecuh37110
Bibb3643
Pickens3639
Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
Crenshaw2843
Choctaw27312
Henry2433
Greene24011
Cherokee2337
Geneva2260
Clay2165
Lamar1942
Fayette1695
Cleburne1141
Coosa902
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