Welcome home, Mr. President. Happy Memorial Day weekend, and congratulations on an international trip free of major faux pas. Almost forgotten is that within minutes of your wheels-up departure from the United States more than a week ago came yet another revelation pertaining to Russia and the election. It remains to be seen whether you can keep some positive momentum going from your recent voyage. Let me help by giving you some unsolicited advice, pro bono. I don’t know if you’re not getting good counsel, or are ignoring the good counsel you are receiving, but I’m going to assume it’s the former.
First, Robert Mueller’s appointment is the official statement of official Washington that if you broke the law, you’re out, one way or another: impeachment, indictment, or cabinet removal under the 25th Amendment.
I don’t know if you have broken the law, meaning whether you have impeded official investigations, but I don’t agree with you that this is a “witch hunt.” Not when former CIA chief John Brennan last week testified to the House intelligence committee: “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”
Brennan aside, there was already enough evidence relating to Michael Flynn and the Russians to warrant the extraordinary act of the appointment of Mueller as special counsel. After all:
You fired the person who was investigating Flynn (and maybe yourself) after you allegedly first asked that investigator (former FBI Director James Comey) for a loyalty pledge over a Jan. 27 one-on-one dinner at the White House, according to the New York Times.
Then two weeks later, on Feb. 14, according to the Times, and allegedly supported by a contemporaneous memo Comey wrote, you dismissed Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the Oval Office before asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn by saying, “I hope you can let this go.”
And despite your initial contention that you’d relied on a May 9 memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that discussed Comey’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton, we know from your Comey termination letter of the same date that you very much had Russia on your mind (“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation…”).
Then in March, according to the Washington Post, you urged Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, and Daniel Coats, the director of National Intelligence, to “push back” against an FBI inquiry into possible coordination between Russia and your presidential campaign. The Post said that both refused and at least one of them, Rogers, had his version recorded in a contemporaneous memo. Further, according to the Post, “…senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn.”
That sounds awfully like President Richard Nixon conspiring with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to get the CIA to persuade the FBI to stop its probe of Watergate.
And of course, just as you departed for Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported that you told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador to the United States on May 10 in the Oval Office that Comey was a “nut job,” and that his termination would relieve “great pressure,” a revelation that your White House did not deny in its written response.
Taken together, that sounds like the behavior of someone impeding an official investigation. And you can’t make what has happened go away. Not by tweeting. Not by rallying the base or having your allies in Congress or the conservative media complain.
We’re beyond that now. You need to hire a criminal defense lawyer and follow that lawyer’s advice, which will no doubt include restraint. You also need to engage a political adviser who will stand up to you — and tell you when you are wrong — and you need to follow that advice.
The road ahead is pretty clear: It is nearly certain that the truth will come out. Mueller is a straight-shooter who will get to the bottom of this, and if you committed crimes, you will be removed. But I’m not prejudging you. It’s premature and inappropriate to talk about initiating impeachment.
Even if you get past your legal issues, the way — the only way — to save your presidency is to stop talking about this issue, stop being controlled by impulse and instead be governed by discretion and the law. Assuming you do not become legally entangled, your presidency can be rescued. After all, President Ronald Reagan faced many dark days in his second term in relation to the Iran-contra scandal, but he got through it by focusing on his work, not complaining, and maintaining discipline. And pretty much the same thing happened with President Bill Clinton, though that scandal was different.
You can pull out of the downward spiral. But only if you have it in you to stay focused, stay on message, and follow the rules, the law, and good advice.
Michael Smerconish can be heard 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124. He hosts Smerconish at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.