This week in Trumpworld, it’s all about floating “fire Mueller” weather balloons. Given how quickly and manically events have progressed over the course of this administration so far, that just doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. But imagine it’s the day after the 2016 election, and someone authoritative comes up to you and says, “13 months from now, the president will be attempting to remove a former FBI director put in charge of a special, Congressionally mandated investigation into whether the president, members or his family and his political confidantes worked with members of the Russian government and oligarchy in a conspiracy to disrupt the American electoral system and provide personal financial benefit in exchange for favorable foreign policy.” Now, you may not even have been surprised then. But that doesn’t make what’s happening right now any less historic or significant. Or sad. This week’s panic power rankings begin with the bureaucracy…
1. General Services Administration
The GSA this past summer turned over tens of thousands of emails sent and received by 13 undisclosed members of the Trump transition team, and Trump’s attorneys/the administration just found out about it. In what looks to educated observers like an act of legal desperation, the president’s lawyers have accused Mueller of obtaining the emails illegally, and claim they were private (which, given recent history, is borderline hysterical). Both the GSA and Mueller’s team assert the document handover was executed lawfully. GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Lowentritt told Buzzfeed News that every member of the transition team was required to sign an agreement saying “no expectation of privacy can be assumed,” and that each member was explicitly warned that correspondence “would not be held back in any law enforcement.” Both those facts, along with the fact that the entire process is done under a .gov address, should have been dead giveaways, but we do know how the Trump team has trouble filling out forms correctly.
The reason for panic here though is the revelation that Mueller and his team basically had a perjury checklist going into every single interview they’ve conducted. In sum: #emails.
2. Robert Mueller
Rumors abound that Trump is going to fire Mueller, and the GOP attack apparatus has already begun throwing body blows that would make it an easier sell to the public. But Mueller continues to keep his head down and appears undistracted by any attempts to discredit his investigation. His team appears to understand that recklessness won’t be tolerated and that even the appearance of impropriety could derail what is probably the most important investigation in American political history. Hence the removal this summer of FBI agent Peter Strzok from the investigation after it was discovered Strzok had exchanged anti-Trump text messages (he also disparaged Clinton and other Democrats during that time) with a fellow FBI agent during the course of the 2016 election. Investigation sources, for their part, say this thing’s not even close to being finished.
3. Rod Rosenstein
Trump can’t technically fire Mueller himself. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who’s legally in charge of the investigation after the recusal of attorney general Jeff Sessions, is the one who would have to make the call. The problem: Rosenstein testified just last week that he saw no reason for that to happen. Trump has privately complained about Rosenstein, calling him “weak” and “a Democrat” (Rosenstein was nominated to the Justice Department by George W. Bush), and, as things stand, the shortest path to ending the investigation for Trump is to fire Rosenstein and work his way down the DoJ hierarchy until he finds someone careerist enough to volunteer to fire Mueller. Historically, that’s worked out great for U.S. presidents.
4. Michael Flynn
Flynn’s plea deal combined with the revelation that Mueller’s been sitting on transition emails that spell out much of what he’s been questioning campaign, transition and administration officials about should be a signal to all parties involved that 1) Flynn has given up a whole lot that wasn’t in the emails to get that deal and 2) no one who hasn’t yet been indicted should expect to get anything close to that favorable a deal going forward. For Trump’s part, he’s already answered “we’ll see,” to the question of whether he’ll pardon Flynn.
5. Vladimir Putin
As more and more of the Steele Dossier, once thought by many to be a document of conspiracy theory, is confirmed, the question becomes more pressing: where’s the pee tape? Never mind that the dossier also suggests an oil money-for-policy bribe. Bring on the smut! The bottom line is that it looks more every day like Putin has everything alleged on Trump and more, and that’s no way to live if you’re Trump. The two spoke on the phone last Thursday, allegedly so Trump could thank Putin for his praise of Trump’s first year in office and to discuss North Korea. They then spoke again on Sunday, with Putin thanking Trump for information volunteered by the CIA that led to the thwarting of a terrorist plot in St. Petersburg.
Yesterday, Trump rolled out what passes for him as a national security strategy. In it, Russia is said, along with China, to be “determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.” Interesting. Hilariously, this line is also included: “Russia [is] using tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies,” with no reference to our own democracy.
6. Jared Kushner
Kushner is almost assuredly one of the transition officials whose emails were seized by Mueller. He was also the one who pushed hardest for Flynn to be made national security advisor, against the vehement opposition of and warnings from Barack Obama, Sally Yates and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was leading the Trump transition until Kushner and Ivanka Trump pushed him out. Kushner also just hired a crisis PR firm to supplement his legal team. Not the kind of thing one does who has an optimistic mindset about one’s own future.
7. Rex Tillerson
A dead man walking who’s already proven he doesn’t really care what Trump thinks or wants. Tillerson could be a wild card in the Russia investigation down the line.
8. Donald Trump
Oh god, he’s on a #fakenews tear…
9. Paul Ryan
According to Politico, the speaker of the house apparently feels like he can ride into the private sector sunset now that he’s rammed through his magnum opus—the immensely unpopular, Randian freak show that is the GOP tax bill. But the smart money is on Ryan taking that time to mount a 2020 presidential run. Who his opponent will be is of course entirely up in the air, but it makes all the sense in the world for Ryan to get the hell out of dodge to appear above the fray for whatever remains of the Trump presidency.
10. Omarosa Manigault-Newman
She’s seen too much, been through too much…