The Longer Mueller Takes, The More Trump Consolidates Power

Overruling the recommendations of the internal affairs office of the FBI that recommended a 60 day suspension and a demotion and in spite of previous statements that he would be afforded the full protections of all the normal disciplinary procedures, Peter Strzok has been summarily fired by the FBI for texts critical of President Trump. Strzok’s firing is part of what has essentially become a political purge of FBI officials who were involved in investigating Trump’s connections to Russia during the 2016 campaign. Those include James Comey and Andrew McCabe, who was fired just hours before he would have been able to retire with a full pension. And, as Rachel Maddow pointed the other night, the other corroborating witnesses for Trump’s meetings with Comey in order to influence the Flynn investigation have also been forced out of the FBI.

There is no doubt that Strzok’s texts and emails to Lisa Page over FBI devices was inappropriate and cause for potential discipline. But the chances that Strzok would be fired for his similar comments about Hillary Clinton if she had won the election are zero. This was a politically motivated firing, pure and simple.

Strzok’s firing, in its own way, highlights the failure of our institutions to respond to Trump’ increasing autocratic maneuvers. It has long been clear that Republicans in Congress will do nothing to restrain Trump for one reason or another. And, for many, the Mueller investigation provides an optimal excuse to do nothing, creating what Hillary Davidson describes as “a nightmarish case of Bystander Syndrome, waiting for “someone else to take a stand, because they won’t”.

Moreover, the longer the Mueller investigation draws out, the more time Trump has to consolidate his power and smear the investigation itself. As Sarah Kendzior writes, “Trump, like any autocrat, aims to rewrite the law so that he can break it. As he purges the officials who investigate corruption, he packs courts with judges who will exonerate him regardless of evidence”. Republican attempts to ram through Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court before all the material to judge his record is available is simply the latest example of this tactic, which has previously involved nominating remarkably unqualified political hacks to the federal bench.

The rush to put Kavanugh on the Court mirrors the process that was used to install Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA. During her confirmation, Haspel admitted that torture occurred under her watch while running a black site in Thailand but claimed that it produced valuable intelligence. After her confirmation, documents that were subsequently released that showed that the torture provided no actionable intelligence. Now there is substantial evidence that Kavanaugh was involved in crafting the torture policy to begin with and lied about it in his earlier confirmation as a federal judge. But Republicans seem determined to push his confirmation through before documents that answer those questions become available. This would mean that both the CIA Director and a Supreme Court Justice are implicated in torture, a crime against humanity. Perhaps even more importantly, Kavanaugh, who was integral to Ken Starr’s pursuit of Bill Clinton, now apparently believes in almost unrestricted presidential power that would protect Trump from the current investigation.

Mueller has also been stymied by the President’s drawn out “negotiation” over whether and how he would sit for an interview, a discussion that has been going on for nearly a year already. At this point, Mueller has only about 3 weeks before the “blackout period” for the midterm elections, the period which James Comey so blatantly disregarded in 2016 to the detriment of Democrats. While Mueller may produce further indictments of Trump campaign officials before that deadline, it appears unlikely that he will be providing any report, interim or otherwise, on Trump’s collusion or obstruction of justice. This means, again to the detriment of Democrats, the American people will be deprived of any definitive results from the investigation that might have a profound influence on the 2018 election. So the effective result will be that Trump will have been protected from potentially devastating political damage in both the 2016 and 2018 election.

From a broader perspective, Mueller’s inability to produce even an interim report feeds into the sense that the system is just not working. As Sarah Kendzior notes, “Trump has confessed to obstruction of justice numerous times. He confessed to Lester Holt. He confessed on Twitter. How many times does a president need to confess to obstruction of justice before someone actually does something?!” The longer it takes to actually put any restraint on Trump simply provides him with more time to consolidate his power with more political purges, further attacks on Mueller and the judicial system as well as the media, additional chances to pack the courts with cronies, and more demands to investigate his political opponents for the very crimes he has committed and continues to commit.

Originally published at on August 14, 2018.