So much for small favors. Judge Timothy J. Kelly just came down hard on the administration that appointed him to the federal bench in September 2017. He granted CNN a temporary restraining order, ruling that the White House did not follow due process in depriving CNN reporter Jim Acosta of his right to a ‘hard pass,’ which permits him to enter White House grounds when pleases. He also noted that the doctored video that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disseminated about Acosta performing a karate chop on a hapless intern who was trying to retrieve a microphone was ‘likely untrue.’
The judge’s verdict further demonstrates that Trump is the best thing to happen to Acosta and, by extension, much of the media. He gets to amplify his role as a victim of a nefarious administration. Whether Trump calls on him or not in future press conferences — and he has no obligation to do so, other than the fact that Acosta provides a useful foil for him — Acosta has burnished his bona fides as a crusader for freedom and truth. As Jack Shafer notes in Politico, ‘While it’s true that he’s more of a pain in the neck than a true newshawk, we can still call for his return to the White House briefing room in good conscience because being a pain in the neck is often a necessary part of the job. Besides, Sanders and Trump already miss him.’
For the Trump administration, the ruling is another demonstration of its incompetence. None other than the redoubtable George Conway, the husband of Kellyanne, provided a reminder of this fundamental fact in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast ‘Skullduggery’ in which he announced that the Trump administration is ‘like a shitshow in a dumpster fire.’ A day or so ago, he announced that he was forming a conservative group of prominent legal experts called ‘Checks and Balances’ to oppose Trump’s attempts to become a strongman. Speaking to Yahoo, he noted that he would prefer to ‘move to Australia’ than vote for Trump in 2020. What Kellyanne’s views on moving down under are, however, he did not disclose. She has apparently made her continued tenure in the White House contingent on whether Nick Ayers, an aide to vice-president Mike Pence, becomes Trump’s chief of staff, replacing John Kelly. Conway, like a number of other staffers, is said to view the prospect of his appointment with loathing.
All of this, however, could become a sideshow if it’s true that Robert Mueller is winding down his investigation. Trump’s unhinged tweets in the past few days about Mueller’s ‘thugs’ are fueling speculation that Mueller is about to hand down a bunch of indictments and that the president knows something that the rest of us don’t. Meanwhile, Susan Glasser, writing in the New Yorker, reminds us that Mueller has a new wingman in Congress in the form of Adam Schiff, the former federal prosecutor and canny lawmaker from California. According to Glasser, ‘In an interview, Representative Adam Schiff, of California, described to me his evolving plan to act as Mueller’s congressional backstop, insuring that, even if Trump and Whitaker attempt to shut down the investigation, Mueller’s investigatory work and conclusions will not be covered up. Schiff, who is expected to secure the chairmanship when Democrats approve their new leadership, also made it clear that he will revive and expand the committee’s investigation of the Russia allegations that Republicans on the panel abruptly shut down earlier this year, telling me he would like to recall Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, and Michael Cohen, the President’s estranged former lawyer and fixer, among others, to get answers that the G.O.P. majority wouldn’t or couldn’t extract.’
Small wonder that Trump appears to be losing whatever small semblance of sanity that he possessed. All his life, Trump has managed to foil scrutiny, leaving one disaster behind to move on to the next one. Soon Acosta may look like the least of his worries.