We can credit the New York Times if the loose cannon in the White House fires special counsel Robert Mueller for crossing a “red line” by poking around in the president’s finances.
What some pundits predict will be a constitutional crisis might be traced to Trump’s acquiescence to a suggestion from reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman during an interview with the Times last summer.
SCHMIDT: “Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?”
HABERMAN: “Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?”
TRUMP: “I would say, yeah. I would say, yes.”
The reporters had to know the answer, that this was a sketchy rich guy hiding his tax returns and shady deals.
The Q&A was akin to asking children if they would be unhappy if there were no more desserts at dinnertime.
Predictably, since that interview last July, the conventional wisdom has become that the president declared his business out of bounds on the Russia investigation. Never mind that the dunderhead in the Oval Office never had an original thought, that the idea came from the interviewers, not the consistently incoherent interviewee.
No matter. The media love lines – the red one from Obama on Syria, the one in the sand from Bush Sr. in Iraq.
Trump’s supposed red line has been repeated so many times on TV – his primary source of information – that he probably believes he drew it himself.
For Schmidt and Haberman, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of Trump whisperers, their mischief was rewarded last Thursday when they reported that Mueller had subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization.
The media verdict was nearly unanimous:
- Mueller Just Stepped Over Trump’s Red Line – Bloomberg
- Did Robert Mueller Just Cross Donald Trump’s Red Line on Russia? – CNN
- Trump Drew a Red Line for Mueller; Mueller Just Crossed It – The Hill
The headlines sent yaps flapping on cable news. Will Trump use it as an excuse to fire Mueller? What will the Republicans do if that happens? Will they finally slap down the Cowardly Lion? Will he start a war to wag the dog? Will he loot the treasury and hijack Air Force One?
I made up that last question. The rest, in some form or another, were solemnly posed and debated on cable news and editorial pages – by the same folks who habitually tell us any one of Trump’s outrageous, or disturbing, or demented, or cruel, or abnormal, or insane, or racist, or sexist, or senseless, or nonsensical, or stupid utterances or actions may derail “his agenda.”
The Chiseler in Chief , who upchucked tweets at Mueller on the weekend, has no agenda other than to pad his bank account and his ego. That’s always been his raison d’etre, besides getting laid.
The bonanza of the GOP tax cuts and other schemes we don’t yet know about are probably taking care of the money. Watching himself on TV day and night is the ego boost he craves – and undoubtedly a substitute for sex unless Melania and the Secret Service are giving a free pass to porn stars and Russian hookers frequenting the East Wing.
Bill Maher, who talks nearly non-stop about Trump on his weekly HBO show, said during the latest episode: “I don’t want to hear about this every day, this disgusting vulgar man and what he’s done, and what he’s said – and we always have to debate the latest batshit thing that comes out of his mouth. I just think people need a break – it’s exhausting, we’re exhausted.”
Some of the weekday cable news hosts seem to be punch-drunk. Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC often can’t stop laughing at the insanity. Don Lemon on CNN giggles a lot.
But it’s still all Trump all the time.
The one true thing he has said is that the media are secretly rooting for him to be around as long as possible, that he is a boon to TV rating and print/digital subscriptions.
He’s also raised the profile and bank balances of all the newspaper journalists who now appear regularly as “contributors” on cable news – When did journalism join the performing arts? – including Haberman on CNN and Schmidt on MSNBC. They give serious answers to serious questions.
But I’ve yet to hear either of them asked why they handed a Zippo to the Arsonist in Chief.
Ken Becker is the author of The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.