Robert Kennedy like to quote his father Joe: “Don’t get mad, get even.” That mindset is very much alive in Washington a generation later. It certainly didn’t take Rod Rosenstein long to set things right.
Rosenstein was just two weeks into his job as President Donald Trump’s deputy attorney general when Trump set him up by ordering him to write the memo used as a pretext to fire FBI Director James Comey. Just a week later, though, we witnessed Rosenstein’s Revenge: He has appointed a special counsel, whose sole purpose will be to investigate and prosecute anything having to do, even remotely, with the accusation that Trump and his scary band of campaign workers colluded with the Russian government to sway the election Trump’s way.
Not only that, but the man he named is Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI himself, with a sterling reputation as a no-nonsense public official, a relentless investigator. Mueller spells nothing but trouble for Donald Trump.
And we haven’t even gotten to Comey’s Revenge, which is already drawing blood soon after the Trumpster clumsily sacked Jim Comey and embarrassed himself by changing stories. Turns out, it had nothing to do with Rosenstein’s memo citing Comey’s clumsy handing of last year’s Hillary Clinton email controversy (yes, I know, the plot thickens). That’s the pretense White House aides peddled until the boss pulled the rug out from under them by suddenly stating in interviews that it was all about “this Russia thing.”
So Donald Trump shoved James Comey aside. Biiiiiig mistake. Huuuuuuge mistake. Jim Comey is not one to be shoved aside. What has followed is a serious drip, drip, drip of severely damaging stories about Trump and his conversations with Jim: President Trump demanded his loyalty, said an anonymous source (gee, who could that be?). Not so, said Donald, and then he went bonkers on Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Oopsie: Was POTUS really saying that the conversations were recorded? He and his gang weren’t saying, and small wonder. Capitol Hill was alive with the sounds of subpoena demands. Then the anonymous sources put out word that FBI Director Comey had written memos to the file after a conversations with the chief executive in which Trump suggested that he shut down the probe into Michael Flynn, who is at the heart of the whole Russian investigation. According to one of Comey’s contemporaneous memos, the exact words were: “I hope you can let this go.”
Was this obstruction of justice, a crime? What about the allegations that Russia and Trump’s people had conspired to manipulate the election? It cried for a special counsel, and Rosenstein heard the cries. He appointed, by all accounts, a really special special counsel in Mueller, and now the diligent investigation will get even more intense. Those who devoutly wish that Donald Trump would simply go away, however, will have to hold their breath a lot longer. These things take time, and Robert Mueller certainly is not careless. The Trump administration is a fact of life for the foreseeable future. The tweets will keep on coming. In his latest batch, following the Mueller appointment, @realDonaldTrump pecked: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” He used the same words on camera just a day before he took his persecution complex and fled the country.
The “witch hunt” charge is difficult to prove or disprove, but in a fleeting period, the Trump presidency is historically weakened, and most of the wounds are self-inflicted. In time, we’ll find out if it’s just nasty amateurism that caused this or something worse — various crimes. For Donald Trump, it’s a valuable lesson, the kind that bullies, sooner or later, are forced to learn: Don’t attack someone who can hit back. Getting even is a way of life here. Even, and then some.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.