Foot, Meet Pistol

common mistake

Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations, CNN has reported:

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he’s potentially implicated in.

Trump, Meet Obstruction

As if the situation needed explaining, Josh Campbell of CNN explains, Trump’s relationship with Whitaker imperils the rule of law.

Hypocrisy, Meet Shame

Mr. Campbell and others have compared these current developments to the episode where Bill Clinton had a tête-à-tête with his attorney general, Loretta Lynch, during the Hillary email investigation. Although the conversation allegedly focused only on grandchildren, Ms. Lynch felt it necessary to recuse herself from involvement in the investigation, so as to eschew the appearance of impropriety.

Republicans’ failure to demand that Mr. Whitaker do likewise is cited as an example of political hypocrisy. And so it is.

Foot, Meet Pistol

Other commentators have made the attempted obstruction point and the political hypocrisy point, but have not, at least to my knowledge, made this additional, important observation.

With Trump having tried his damnedest to obstruct justice through direct and indirect communications with Whitaker, if Whitaker now lifts a finger to help Trump out in any federal investigation, it will—in consequence of those Trump communications—be very difficult for Whitaker to argue that he was just exercising his own independent judgment, within the scope of his reasonable discretion.

If Whitaker now lifts a finger to help Trump, the risk has greatly increased that Whitaker will wind up occupying the jail cell adjacent to Trump’s. Or that, like Attorney General John Mitchell, he will go to the hoosegow while the President gets pardoned.

Mr. Whitaker is a person of breathtakingly modest professional attainments. But he did graduate from law school.

He is a grifter, an unsuccessful businessman, and a failed politician who opportunistically hitched his wagon to Trump’s star.

But you can be all of those things and still have a street urchin’s sense of self-preservation. You can be all of those things and still be unwilling to go to jail for Donald J. Trump.

And that is why, in attempting to obstruct justice, Donald Trump has shot himself in the foot.

Wagon, Meet Star

And that is why Matthew Whitaker has hitched his wagon to the wrong damned star.