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Columnists Jacob Heilbrunn US Politics US Politics

Trump’s presidency is in for a long, difficult summer

1 May 2018

3:16 PM

1 May 2018

3:16 PM

So it’s true. Donald Trump is going bonkers. This morning he used the British term in a tweet slamming “phony Witch Hunts” and lauding the “great Energy and unending Stamina” of the White House.

There is plenty to arouse Trump’s ire. Yesterday the press that Trump loves to decry revealed that White House chief of staff John Kelly regards the president as an “idiot” who persuaded Trump last fall not to withdraw American troops unilaterally from South Korea, a move that would essentially have handed it over to the North on a silver platter.

The last person to talk about Trump like that was former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson whom Trump sacked on Twitter. It’s only a matter of time before Kelly becomes Tillersoned.


Then came the revelation of the almost fifty questions in the New York Times that special counsel—or, to use Trump’s favored spelling, council—Robert Mueller hopes to ask Trump. If the list is anything to go by, Mueller is honing in on possible obstruction of justice and collusion. It contains questions such as “During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?” Collusion, you may have noticed, is Trump’s least favorite word, though he uses it a lot, if only to decry it.

Trump called the revelation of the questions “disgraceful.” Given that the Mueller team seems to have taken an oath of omerta, the chances seem high that it was Trump’s own team that leaked the list. Michael Zeldin, a former assistant to Mueller in the early 1990s, told CNN that he believes that the grammatical errors in the list demonstrate that it was both written and leaked by Trump’s flunkeys. 

This wasn’t a particularly good idea. The leak does give Trump a chance to poison the well and derogate the very idea of asking him questions. Another theory, floated by Norm Eisen of the Brookings Institution, is that Trump’s own legal team is so terrified at the prospect of him testifying to Mueller that it’s working to gin up more controversy about the investigation. But leaking the questions also solidifies the notion that Trump does have something to conceal about his past, no question about that. The inquiries are too pervasive and specific to be dismissed out of hand, as Trump likes to do. Indeed, as he did on Twitter early this morning:

“Oh, I see…you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!”

Note the pleonasms: “Made up,” “phony,” “never existed.”

This summer will likely prove a crucible for the Trump presidency. A rump faction of hardline Republicans has drafted up a document preparing for the impeachment of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, whose sin is that he oversees the Mueller investigation. But there are no signs that Trump himself is really prepared to cope with the Mueller investigation. His legal team is a shambles. His tweets are increasingly unhinged. It’s time to stop going bonkers. My advice to Trump would be that he should learn another British tradition—maintaining a stiff upper lip.


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