A Tweet Is Just a Tweet: It Tells Us Nothing about Whether Trump Is Under Investigation
Can we all stipulate that no one ever wants to be the subject of an investigation? If you are innocent of wrongdoing, the fact that there is no meritorious criminal case is often beside the point.
There is a stigma attached to being an investigative subject. Many people who do not appreciate how politicized the legal system has become will conclude that if you are under investigation, you must have done something wrong. Some other people who know precisely how politicized the legal system has become, and like it that way, will exploit the fact that you are under investigation to stigmatize you. Public perception aside, being the subject of an investigation is also debilitating because of the time it takes to defend oneself, the financial burden of retaining lawyers (and, for a public official, retaining press agents who can deal with the media frenzy), and the anxiety that makes it difficult to focus on one’s job and other responsibilities.
President Trump is now in the grip of this situation. This weekend, it produced some of the more excruciating news coverage in recent memory as one of his lawyers, Jay Sekulow, was tendentiously grilled on the question of whether the president has conceded that he is under investigation.
Like many Trump problems, this one was caused by a Trump tweet. Foolishly allowing himself to be baited by a Washington Post report that special counsel Robert Mueller is now weighing whether the president committed an obstruction crime, Trump tweeted: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt[.]”
Clearly, Trump is exasperated over what he sees as much ado about nothing. Constitutionally, the president does not need a reason to fire the FBI director, who -- like every unelected subordinate official in the executive branch -- serves at the president’s pleasure. Before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Rod Rosenstein, the Trump-appointed deputy attorney general, wrote a memorandum recommending that Comey be dismissed. In the subsequent furor over Comey’s dismissal -- largely stoked by Trump’s conflicting reasons for firing the director, which first adopted but then parted company with Rosenstein’s memo -- Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. In that role, Mueller is not independent -- he answers to Rosenstein (because Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, is recused). So technically, Trump is correct: The man who wrote the memo endorsing Comey’s removal has authorized an investigation that is reportedly probing whether that removal somehow constituted a felony.
But of course, that seeming incongruity did not grab the anti-Trump media’s attention. What journalists focused on like a laser on was the first four words of the president’s tweet: “I am being investigated.” “Ah-hah!” they squealed, Trump has confirmed that he is under investigation. Thereupon, we were treated to heated debates -- including an uncharacteristically cringe-inducing one Fox’s Chris Wallace conducted with Sekulow -- over whether Trump was acknowledging that he is under investigation … or been told he was under investigation … or … something.