Does Robert Mueller have the goods on Donald Trump?
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John Musgrave comes into view for most Americans in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary, Vietnam. In 1967 Musgrave, then an 18-year-old Marine rifleman served at, among other places Con Thien, an outpost two miles south of the DMZ and 14 miles from the coast, viewed by U.S. commanders at the time as strategically vital.
Musgrave, who would later somehow manage to survive wounds that by all rights should have killed him, recalls in the documentary a phrase that seems to be re-emerging in today's political discourse. Describing the relentless barrage of artillery and rocket fire, he remembered, "Con Thien was extraordinarily small. That's one of the things that made it so intense. We called it time in the barrel because we were like fish in a barrel.'' Thus time at Con Thien came to be ruefully referred to by the Marines stationed there as, "Time in the barrel."
Trump confidant, unofficial adviser, and longtime Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone has taken to Tweeting in advance that key Democratic figures would soon face their time in the barrel. Apparently something Stone delighted in. First he posted his ominous prediction on Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, "Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary." He later appears to have known in advance that Democratic senator Al Franken would soon face time in the barrel.
Now it's Donald Trump's time in the barrel.
More words of wisdom from Roger Stone, as he further opines that Trump should at all costs avoid a direct interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, calling it a "perjury trap." It would, however, better be described as a "rock and a hard place."
Donald Trump, in a formal setting with Mueller, could absolutely blunder or bluster and incriminate himself. It's well within his makeup and he's certainly done it many times before. But it isn't likely that is what Mueller and his staff are preparing for.
It's far more likely that since Mueller has made the call to move ahead with an interview of a sitting president, he is in possession of evidence that implicates Trump personally and criminally. It is legally, constitutionally, and historically an extraordinary step. Mueller would not go there unless he already had solid evidence in hand. The evidence being the key.
It's those pesky underlying facts that former acting attorney general Sally Yates referred to in testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in May of last year rearing their ugly heads again.
Mueller is playing a chess game, and he's playing to win. He's putting Trump between a rock and a hard place. If Mueller has evidence Trump has engaged in criminal activity, then Trump only has two options under questioning, both bad.
He can admit to criminal activity (the rock) or lie to federal investigators, a felony unto itself (the hard place).
Trump and his lawyers have two options of their own: refuse to cooperate with Mueller's interview request and/or subsequent subpoena, or move to have someone, anyone, at the Justice Department fire Mueller. Two more bad options.
If he chooses the "Just say no" option, that likely lands in the Supreme Court's inbox on a fairly expedited basis. Given the sea of ill will Trump has created between his administration and the Judicial Branch, the court, political leanings notwithstanding, would not be likely to rule against the Constitution and issue Donald Trump a free pass.
In the alternative, should Trump one Saturday night decide to organize a massacre, call it Saturday Night Massacre II, that would be difficult. But if he and his inner circle were willing to burn all the political capital they have left, they could probably get it done. Barely. The blowback, however, would be visible from outer space.
Pissed off FBI agents do not necessarily constitute a Deep State, and it probably is not fair to conclude that the counsel's investigation is a vendetta, but if Mueller is removed you can bet it will get downright personal, quickly. The probe will continue, and all of federal law enforcement will be highly motivated to see it through.