- Julian Zelizer: Trump’s fate in confronting the Russia scandal rests with how a cast of political actors play their part
- In the months ahead, Mueller, Congressional leaders and reporters will be tested as the drama unfolds
Trump also said, “I’m not under investigation,” according to the Times, citing notes that were taken on the meeting.
Although legal experts filled the airwaves discussing the implications, the truth is that much of what happens next will depend on how the politics unfold. The fate of presidents who face scandal is largely determined in a political arena rather than a court of law. Surviving a scandal of this proportion requires immense political skills from the White House and a bit of good old-fashioned luck.
All eyes on Mueller
So what to look for in the months ahead?
The point man in the process will be Robert Mueller, who was appointed last week by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The Justice Department has given him broad discretion to look into what happened with Russia in the 2016 election and all related matters, including why the President abruptly fired Comey (who Mueller worked closely with under President George W. Bush).
Why legislation still matters
Even with the authority of the special counsel, Congress still has an important part to play, especially if Republicans finally start participating in the investigation rather than stalling and protecting Trump. Congressional hearings can be an important forum. Unlike Mueller’s work, these can be conducted in public.
As President Nixon learned during the Watergate scandal, that kind of exposure can have a damning effect. If members are able to persuade administration officials to speak about what’s happened, such testimony can sway the views of Americans watching.
In the Senate, just a few Republicans would be necessary to turn the majority against Trump. There is not much the President can do to make them feel better, because he will never change his tune. But he can push for attractive legislation.
As legislators become more focused on the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election, what they need most to re-energize the Republican party is big-ticket legislation. If the White House can get its act together and start moving legislation on the Hill, that could just be enough to bolster his partisan support at a moment it is clearly faltering.
The ability of reporters to continue their work will shape public understanding of the ongoing drama. And the effectiveness of sympathetic conservative journalists in spinning alternative narratives should be interesting to watch.
Leaks have been steady, as was evident on Friday, and they will likely come at a faster pace. In the face of this pressure, and with President Trump potentially distancing himself from members of his team, some figures in the White House may well start to openly break with the administration in order to protect themselves. Should they speak, either to Mueller or to the public through Congress, this could change the game.