No wonder Trump's panic level is rising
President Donald Trump's efforts to undermine the norms and institutions of democracy include his childish taunting of the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff refuses to let Trump provide a Swiss cheese account of the FISA application for suspected Russian agent Carter Page. (Trump tweeted, "Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.")
Other examples include Trump’s cartoon-autocrat pronouncement that Democrats who didn't applaud him are "treasonous"; and his ongoing attempts to destroy the integrity of the FBI and other nonpartisan decision-makers (such as the courts).
In particular, Trump's "treasonous" remark is the classic language of dictators. "Populists from Russia's Vladimir Putin to Hungary's Viktor Orban always claim that they - and they alone - represent the true people; anybody who disagrees with them, they say is a traitor," Harvard scholar and democracy expert Yascha Mounk tells me.
"With these remarks, Trump is squarely following in their footsteps,” he said. Mounk cautions that while it would be "tempting to write this off as mere rhetoric, as we've seen in the case of Trump's attacks on (special counsel Robert Mueller)] and the FBI, his verbal attacks eventually lead to action."
Trump's antics, which are getting less clever and more nakedly aggressive with time, can also be seen as evidence of sheer panic. For one thing, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democrats' rebuttal to Chairman Devin Nunes' wildly derided memo. Trump will be forced to either keep it bottled up — giving voters every reason to think that he is hiding the truth — or allow its release, showing his gambit with Nunes to be a thinly disguised attempt to derail the investigation.
We know he also has reason to be fearful of an interview with the special counsel. Trump understandably may be in a state of acute anxiety. The New York Times reports:
"Lawyers for President Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to four people briefed on the matter, raising the specter of a months-long court battle over whether the president must answer questions under oath. His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators. Their stance puts them at odds with Mr. Trump, who has said publicly and privately that he is eager to speak with Mr. Mueller as part of the investigation into possible ties between his associates and Russia's election interference, and whether he obstructed justice."
When your lawyers are letting it be known that you're a compulsive liar and are in danger of either confessing to obstruction of justice or committing perjury, you might feel just a tinge frantic.
Trump can decline to be interviewed, but then Mueller would have little choice but to subpoena him. At that point, Trump can go in front of the grand jury (no defense lawyers allowed in the room) to testify, plead the Fifth Amendment (an extraordinary event that amounts to a confession that he cannot do his job, which is to enforce the laws) or try to go to court, hoping to stall long enough until, well, until something comes along.
Trump cannot possibly prevail (as Richard Nixon failed to keep the special counsel from obtaining the tapes), but he's not necessarily thinking two or three steps down the road. He's trying to rid himself of this meddlesome prosecutor, even for a week or a month.
For all the talk that Trump is "winning" — because he's convinced Sean Hannity and his fellow cultists that the FBI was pro-Hillary Clinton? — these stunts have no effect (other than to add to the counts of obstruction) on Mueller.
The special counsel doesn't care what the GOP base believes or what Trump's approval rating is among Republicans. He doesn't care if Trump insults congressmen. Mueller is following the law and the facts, slowly encircling Trump. Panic, come to think of it, is a perfectly rational response to the trap in which Trump finds himself.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.