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Dan K. Thomasson: Leave Mueller alone, Mr. President

| Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting in June about Russian meddling in the 2016 election with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo | J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting in June about Russian meddling in the 2016 election with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo | J. Scott Applewhite, File)


To Donald Trump: As one who spent nearly two years of his life as a journalist focused on Watergate, I have one piece of advice. Your best course is not to in any way disrupt or attack Robert Mueller personally as some around you undoubtedly may have counseled, no matter your own natural inclination.

The former FBI director who is conducting the investigation that has resulted in what obviously will not be the last of indictments stemming from Russian influence in your campaign for the presidency is no Archibald Cox, whom Richard Nixon made the mistake of firing in the midst of the crisis that drove him from office. While Cox was a fine lawyer with excellent credentials, his reputation hardly matched that of Mueller, whose prosecutorial and investigative chops are among the most respected of his generation — on both sides of the political aisle.

A “Saturday night massacre” like the one that signaled the beginning of the end for Nixon would not only bring bipartisan condemnation but most likely the introduction of the impeachment process in Congress. Such a decision would overwhelm even your most ardent supporters and your ability to tweet your way out of it. Recent polls show the public favoring Mueller 2-to-1.

The door to the potential premature end of your tenure in the Oval Office has been opened more than just a crack with the charges against former campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy Rick Gates and adviser George Popadopoulos. The only way to avoid what could be the inevitable consequence is to keep a cool head and exercise restraint, two things for which you are not noted. In fact, word has spread that you are angry with your son-in-law Jared Kushner for voluntarily turning over documents to Mueller.

Trying to build a backfire by yelling about Hillary Clinton and the emails and complaining about your lack of control of the Justice Department raises a specter of drastic action that could bring about a constitutional crisis.

It's already too late to deny Russia's influence one way or another. The question now becomes: How close to you did this effort come? It seems relatively near, in that your son Donald Jr. and Kushner seem to have been prominent in a questionable meeting in campaign headquarters.

Again, to reference Watergate: What did you know and when did you know it? Is there a smoking gun somewhere that you may have missed? And if so, was it only in passing? Were you too busy to really deal with it, to take notice of the possible illegality of the situation, if you even considered such a notion? You were, after all, seemingly quite friendly with the top of the Russian food chain, including Vladimir Putin.

Be that as it may, don't expect this to be over quickly, if history is any indication.

Here's another word to the wise. You might consider ignoring Steve Bannon, your chief strategist while he was officially in the White House and still a top adviser now that he has left, about an aggressive attack on Mueller and company. Like you, Bannon wasn't around during Watergate and may have missed some of the pitfalls of this kind of investigation. They can get kind of tricky.

Too much bluster is not such a good thing. Take the phrase “I am not a crook,” for instance. Oh, I forgot. Hillary is the crook.

Dan K. Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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