Robert S. Mueller III’s appointment as special counsel may actually be good news for this administration.
Perhaps the Trump White House will follow the Justice Department’s lead and compartmentalize its cooperation with the special counsel. Perhaps Mueller’s involvement will bring an end to the pattern of President Donald Trump beginning the day’s news coverage with an alarming and disruptive tweet, followed by the usual Democratic punditry and all-too-regular leaks.
If this cycle is broken, perhaps the special counsel’s presence will at least stabilize the environment and allow Republicans in Congress to restore some semblance of governance and once again focus on the legislative accomplishments needed to stave off disaster in the 2018 elections.
To effectively manage its relationship with the special counsel, the White House will need to wall off its dealings with any Russia-related investigations. And, above all else, the president should assign the responsibility of scandal management to a few disciplined lawyers and utility players who can keep their mouths shut.
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This administration knows all too well just how damaging leaks can be. Right now, everything from the White House needs to remain airtight. We should not see Sean Spicer at the daily press briefing reading out status updates of the investigation, propping up and legitimizing the media’s unfounded rumors, or speculating as to how things are going. He should only refer questions elsewhere.
The congressional affairs and communications offices should similarly divorce themselves from whatever inquiries intersect with those of the special counsel and ongoing investigations on Capitol Hill. At this point, the White House cannot risk being made to look as though it is slow-walking or spinning oversight or investigations - not when Democrats, aided by the mainstream media, claim the president has somehow obstructed justice.
But even if the White House does all of these things, the $64,000 question is: Will the presence of a special counsel and its ominous potential muzzle the president? Everyone knows the president should not stir things up and make matters worse by antagonizing the special counsel or suggesting that his administration’s cooperation is forced or insincere, but the president still might not hold back. Just this morning, Trump blasted off a tweet, arguing “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
It must be demoralizing for the White House staff to witness Trump’s reaction. If you look how things have transpired and what led to the need for a special counsel, Trump’s tweets are near the top of the list. The idea that he is somehow communicating directly with the people and that it is helpful in getting his message out is absurd. He set himself up, and Democrats in Congress, liberal pundits on television and anti-Trump resisters are happy to make matters even worse. After all, Trump’s tweets, denials and grievances are all Democrats have to talk about.
But unlike the usual suspects on the left, I never believed there was any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The very idea has always been and will continue to be silly. Trump just needs to keep quiet and let the truth emerge. Now, however, the Democrats will slow down the process, and the truth will be months in coming.
Trump needs to remember that the advantage of being innocent can be squandered and undermined by reckless behavior. But if he stays quiet and the White House entrusts a core group to be responsible for cooperation with the special counsel, then Republicans may have a fighting chance of getting on with legislating and advancing a conservative agenda.
Congress is weary, and foreign leaders are watching. The president does not need tougher tweets or a more rapid defense. He needs to maintain composure, let the system work and build a record that Republicans in Congress can run on. It may be wishful thinking, but it is not too late.
Ed Rogers is a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He wrote this for The Washington Post. Twitter: @EdRogersDC