By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – This is how a dam crumbles.
A crack widens to a hole, which then becomes a break and then the accumulating pressure brings the whole thing down.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
This seems to be what’s happening within President Donald Trump’s White House now.
The steady, unrelenting pressure brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the ties of the Trump campaign and administration ties with Russia already has produced several cracks – the Paul Manafort indictment, the George Papadopoulos plea bargain – in the president’s stonewall.
But the negotiated guilty plea of lying to the FBI by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn means at least one crack has widened into a hole and maybe even a break.
Flynn was in serious trouble. Mueller had many avenues to prosecute Flynn, several of which could have led to serious prison time for both Flynn and his family. The plea bargain on the smallest of the charges facing Flynn in exchange for cooperating with the special counsel means Flynn likely won’t spend any time behind bars and his family will be left alone.
The only way Flynn could have wiggled out from under that weight was by trading something – something big.
About the only thing he had to offer that Mueller might want is the president himself.
Perhaps this explains the president’s erratic behavior since word first broke that Flynn’s defense team had stopped cooperating with the White House’s lawyers.
Trump’s attorneys have done their best to minimize the impact of that development. After months of praising and defending Flynn, they have pivoted and said the guilty plea for lying demonstrates he can’t be trusted – an obvious attempt to try to discredit damaging testimony from the man before he even delivers it.
That is what lawyers are supposed to do. They’re supposed to protect their client.
What they cannot do is protect Trump from himself.
The news that Flynn had flipped seemed to unhinge the president.
Since it first broke, he’s waded, unnecessarily, into the quagmire enveloping former NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct – and thus renewed calls that the accusations Trump has harassed and assaulted women be investigated. He’s suggested that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape isn’t real – even though he acknowledged it and apologized for it just a year ago. And he has tried to raise again the thoroughly discredited claim that former President Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen.
If all that weren’t enough, he also has gone out of his way to undercut and embarrass his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, while the United States attempts to deal with a potential nuclear threat in North Korea.
The president’s actions are those of a man who is unbalanced.
This president’s pattern when he is under assault or stress is unvarying. He tries to find a way to go on the counter-attack, either by demeaning or discrediting his opponents or critics. If he can’t do that, Trump creates one diversion or conjures up one smoke screen after another to distract people from what’s going on.
He does this because it is the only way he knows to meet a challenge.
But it isn’t likely to work in this situation.
Robert Mueller is everything Donald Trump is not – disciplined rather than impulsive, self-contained instead of needy, and determined rather than self-pitying.
Some months ago, I talked with Peter Rusthoven, former associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan, a onetime Republican U.S. Senate candidate and a veteran of some savage Washington wars.
Rusthoven said the intelligence and the investigatory communities in the federal government were the two forces that savvy political figures never wanted to alienate – and that Trump had angered them both. Rusthoven predicted the president would learn this lesson to his regret, because both communities moved like powerful rivers, always forward, with a drive that just never lets up.
That’s another way of saying that the dam protecting the president is under immense pressure and about to crumble.
That’s when Donald Trump’s real education will begin.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.