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Trump isn’t denying obstructing justice. Why not?



Donald Trump keeps insisting, “No collusion!” but notice how he never says “No obstruction!” Why is that?

When he says “No collusion!” he’s inoculating his base against the possibility that Mueller says there was collusion. Then Trump can say, “Fake news! Lies from a failing Special Counsel and a crooked F.B.I.! Don’t believe it!” And we’ll have a huge fight over whether or not there was collusion. Did Jared and Donald Jr. take those meetings as “unwitting participants” or were they fully conscious of the illegality of what they were doing? Did Trump concoct that phony memo on Air Force One as part of a secret deal with Russia? Was there a quid pro quo between Trump and Putin whereby Putin would conceal whatever leverage he has over Trump, in exchange for Trump dropping the sanctions? Those things would constitute “collusion” but the Republican/Breitbart party will never concede an inch, not even in the face of an avalanche of evidence. So it’s understandable why Trump keeps repeating “No collusion!” over and over. It’s a form of brainwashing—of tenderizing his base.

But why don’t we hear him saying “No obstruction”? This is harder to answer, and the best I can do is offer some speculation. For one thing, it’s increasingly apparent that there was obstruction of justice, or at least the attempt, by a broad swath of Team Trump: himself, of course, but also including Jared, Don Jr., Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s lawyers, Devin Nunes and who knows how many others who have tried, repeatedly, to stop the investigation.

Given that we can reasonably expect a charge of obstruction by Mueller, how come Trump isn’t inoculating his base against that? I confess to being genuinely puzzled. His reluctance to say “No obstruction” probably comes from his lawyers’ advice as well as from his own instincts. He may believe sincerely that none of the things he did—firing Comey, especially—amounts legally to an obstruction of justice. He may believe sincerely that he can do whatever he wants in his executive capacity as president. He may feel that to deny obstructing justice gives a hint of legitimacy to the charge, and he does not wish to do that; it’s kind of like asking, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Anything he says makes him sound culpable, so he says nothing. Or it may be because his lawyers fully expect Mueller to charge him with obstruction, and they don’t want a denial of obstruction by the perp to be seen as furtherance of the obstruction conspiracy.

We may never know why Trump has been so mute on the obstruction issue, but what matters isn’t what he has or hasn’t said or done, it’s what he will do when and if Mueller charges him with obstruction of justice. If the past is prelude to the future, we know that Trump will deny it. He’ll take to Twitter and throw out every smokescreen he can. He’ll smear the F.B.I. for letting Nikolas Cruz slip through their fingers. He and his surrogates will throw dirt at Mueller, at Rod Rosenstein, at whomever they target as their enemy du jour. He’ll let Fox “News” and rightwing talk radio rile up the base and turn them against Democrats, law enforcement and liberals. And he may even have additional help if we can’t figure out a way to stop the Russian trolls from continuing to interfere in our politics. Fake hashtags will start appearing: #NoObstruction, #Exonerated, #LetHimGovern. Demonstrations will be organized by Russian agents masquerading as real Americans, and those demonstrations will be attended by real Americans who don’t even know they’re being manipulated.

Trump is terrified by impending charges of obstruction, but the Queens street brawler in him is also weirdly turned on. He’ll always depend on the formula for fighting that’s worked for him in the past: If someone attacks you, hit back ten times harder. And, in the end, he knows that the only way to conclusively determine obstruction of justice is to get inside his head and find out what his motives really were. This is going to be the next national soap opera. Looks like we’ll spend the rest of 2018 in a really eerie place: Donald Trump’s mind. Eeeww. Wear your hazmat suit.

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