The Vipers and the Derp

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pumps his fist as he arrives to speak during a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. From left, Eric Trump, Vanessa Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Karen Pence, Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Tiffany Trump. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
Views

There are two noteworthy articles out tonight, one from the Times and another from the Post. They are both of the ‘President is enraged about X and turning on Y’ genre which has become a staple of over the last six months. On that front, the kicker for me is a point noted in both articles but with more detail from the Post: with the White House figuratively burning to the ground around them, Ivanka, Jared and Melania Trump are pushing the President to solve the problem by firing Reince. Clearly, Reince Priebus is the problem. But the three specific, factual points I want to reference come from the article in the Times.

First we learn that the initial response from Donald Trump Jr to the Saturday (first) Times article was crafted by the group of the President’s advisors on Air Force One on the return from Europe. The President signed off on the final version. The President’s son is purportedly set apart from the daily affairs of the White House running the President’s business empire. Why is the President’s White House team answering press stories on his behalf? That seems like a pretty good question. More practically though, if nothing else, this appears to implicate the President in the false claims made to the Times for the first story. Let’s set it aside for the moment. It’s hardly the weirdest thing in the article.

Second, we get more details on the origins of Trump Jr conflagration.

The emails were discovered in recent weeks by Mr. Kushner’s legal team as it reviewed documents, and the team amended his clearance forms to disclose it, according to people briefed on the developments, who like others declined to be identified because of the sensitive political and legal issues involved.

Similarly, Mr. Manafort recently mentioned the meeting to congressional investigators looking into possible collusion, according to the people briefed on the matter.

Clearly it was out of Kushner’s legal process that the story emerged, though hints of it came up in parallel through Manafort’s discussions with congressional investigators. (A separate Times piece notes that it was Kushner’s initial failure to note two critical meetings – one with the Russian Ambassador and another with that Russian state banker – which led to the more searching scrutiny which uncovered this meeting.)

Did Kushner himself or those acting on his behalf more affirmatively push this story into press to aide Kushner in some way? I do not know the answer to this. But I have reason to believe he or those working with him were part of pushing forward story #2, the one that first revealed that dirt on Hillary Clinton was the premise of the meeting with the Russian lawyer.

Why would he do that?

What I’m led to understand is that he might think that putting Don Jr in the spotlight, at the center of the story, would in some way help him, push him into the background and thus take pressure off him. Does that make any sense? Not really. But remember, Kushner thought firing James Comey was a good idea. With Kushner, Don Jr and the rest of these guys, I have a persistent sense that they don’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation they’re in. This is not like a media war in New York City where you can land a blow by placing a nasty story in The New York Post or bludgeon your enemies by buying your own paper. Big, sprawling criminal investigations of this sort rumble on in perfect indifference to whether or not you won the morning or killed it in ten different news cycles.

This brings us to the third passage where we learn that President Trump is losing faith with his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz and that Kasowitz, frustrated with the President, may resign. (As the President finds himself unable to escape his own actions there’s always a new person who is at fault.)

Advisers said the president was annoyed not so much by his son as by the headlines. But three people close to the legal team said he had also trained his ire on Marc E. Kasowitz, his longtime lawyer, who is leading the team of private lawyers representing him. Mr. Trump, who often vents about advisers in times of trouble, has grown disillusioned by Mr. Kasowitz’s strategy, the people said.

The strain, though, exists on both sides. Mr. Kasowitz and his colleagues have been deeply frustrated by the president. And they have complained that Mr. Kushner has been whispering in the president’s ear about the Russia investigations and stories while keeping the lawyers out of the loop, according to another person familiar with the legal team.

The president’s lawyers view Mr. Kushner as an obstacle and a freelancer more concerned about protecting himself than his father-in-law, the person said. While no ultimatum has been delivered, the lawyers have told colleagues that they cannot keep operating that way, raising the prospect that Mr. Kasowitz may resign.

Let me add some additional detail which sheds some light on this. You can see here that Kasowitz and the President’s legal team believe Kushner is trying to protect himself at the President’s expense. Yet, despite this, Kushner is preventing them from adequately defending the President by using familial proximity to influence him.

What I can add is that when Kasowitz was brought on board as the President’s personal attorney in the Russia matter (he’d been a go to lawyer in other matters for years), he had in mind easing Kushner out of the White House.

Part of this would be simply to get Kushner away from the President. After all, before the last few days focus on Don Jr., Kushner was the guy. He had had meetings with various Russia probe players, reportedly tried to get Russian secure communications devices to have secure communications with people in Russia, perhaps hit up a Russia state banker for a multi-hundred-million dollar loan to save his family business. Kushner is by any reasonable measure radioactive. Having him in the White House, with a security clearance and his hand in every decision endangers everyone. Any lawyer or capable political advisor would try to separate the President from that danger.

But there’s another part of it as well. Kasowitz and at least some other Kushner foes seem to have believed that if Kushner could be pushed out the President could finally be freed from the Russia albatross. Imagine it this way. They put the life boat into the water, make Jared get inside, hand him the Russia scandal and then push him off into the open sea.

This never struck me as a terribly realistic proposition. Until a few days ago I was just barely ready to believe there might never be a true smoking gun in the Russia story. But if there was, if there was a story, there’s no way it would only involve Jared Kushner. So the idea that Kushner could simply be made to take the fall for the whole thing just never added up. It makes as much sense as Kushner thinking he can help himself by destroying his brother-in-law.

This is all a hall of mirrors. It’s impossible to tell with any real reliability who is doing what to whom. What’s clear is that this is a notional ‘team’ which appears to be in some key ways as afraid of each other as they are of the prosecutors on their trail. That clearly is not a good recipe for any kind of concerted action that could limit legal exposure. At the end of the day though these folks are in trouble because, almost certainly, they have various kinds of misconduct to hide. So all the musical chairs and mutual knifing probably won’t over time prevent their wrongdoing from being revealed.

I’ve written this many times. But I will say it again. We have all heard the old saw, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” This is not true. People break laws to cover things up because they are covering up grave wrongdoing. This is both logical and accurate. It can seem like it’s the coverup and not the crime because often the cover up succeeds, at least in part. Indeed, usually it does. That’s why people do it. So you may think the cover up got people in more trouble than the crime. But that’s almost certainly because the cover up was largely successful. You never really learned the whole story. At the end of the day people may be stupid but they ain’t dumb. You cover up because the danger of complete exposure must be avoided at all costs. They’re all sitting on secrets and all the mutual knifing and musical chairs will not change that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK