Trump’s America: Mueller and the mid-terms

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Then-candidate Donald Trump in Greensboro in June 2016. (file photo)

Nelson W. Cunningham — formerly a federal prosecutor, general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and White House Office of Administration who has served variously under Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden and Bill Clinton — predicts in a recent article in Politico that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not indict President Trump.

Even so, he expects plenty of upheaval that could play out in unexpected ways just before the November mid-term elections. The prognostication set forth by Cunningham is a twisted path constructed from multiple turns devised out of most likely outcomes. It goes something like this: With no indictment, the Mueller report lands in the lap of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. To protect grand jury materials, FISA warrants, NSA intercepts and other intelligence findings, Rosenstein either releases a heavily edited executive summary or hands the report off to the Judiciary Committees. Which leads to Trump firing Rosenstein, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigning to avoid disgrace. The unexpected development that Cunningham sees is that the Republican Congress will finally find its backbone and refuse to confirm Sessions and Rosenstein’s replacements, ratcheting up public pressure to release the report.

“And so ironically, Trump may have succeeded in creating narrow majorities where just enough Republicans join every Democrat to demand to see the Mueller report. If they do, court precedent says they will get it. Trump’s efforts to shut down the report could backfire spectacularly.”

My own prognostication is considerably gloomier. For the record, I tend to make political predictions from a place of pessimism. Although I sensed that Trump would win the 2016 election, I also publicly predicted that Gov. Pat McCrory would win re-election on the strength of a white, law-and-order backlash against the protests that erupted in Charlotte after the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott.

Still, even with that disclaimer it seems entirely plausible that the scenario envisioned by Cunningham might play out in an entirely different way. Imagine a predictable partisan struggle over whether to release the report, while Trump crows that he’s been completely vindicated, even though the report would show — were it public — that he’s engaged in all kinds of shady, unethical and self-dealing behavior. His supporters love it, and go into the midterms energized by the good news. Congressional Republicans, cowed by Trump’s rallying popularity and worried about their own political survival, don’t make peep.

Of course, conventional wisdom says this is a blue-wave election. That being so, 2016 was also supposed to be a wipeout for Trump, and many of us were also wondering aloud whether Republican lawmakers like Sen. Richard Burr would get pulled down in the undertow. Obviously, that didn’t happen. It seems entirely within the realm of possibility that the Democrats could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

I won’t take any pleasure in saying, “I told you so.”

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