WASHINGTON – Problem-plagued U.S. presidents love to travel abroad, to be welcomed by overhead jets, sword dances and lots of pomp and photo-ops. But then they have to return. Now that President Donald Trump is back, he’ll face the agony of a special counsel’s investigation that could imperil his presidency. The probe by Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election is deadly serious, and is likely to be wide-ranging and protracted. That’s why the president and some of his associates are, in investigative parlance, “lawyering up.”
The former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mueller is empowered to probe links between Russians and the Trump universe. This includes “any matters” that arise from the investigation. Mueller can be counted on to be discreet, fair and tough. He’ll look at whether there was any coordination between Russian authorities and campaign personalities, any financial links or money laundering, and whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation.
Evidence so far is only circumstantial. Yet there’s plenty of it, including a pattern of deceptions and lies about Russian connections that causes Republican concern.
Former FBI director James Comey, fired this month by Trump, kept contemporaneous notes on private conversations in which the president reportedly sought to sidetrack the investigation into his former national security chief, Michael Flynn. Comey soon will brief Mueller.
What are Republicans doing and thinking about Mueller’s inquiry into that question and related ones? Some in Congress, from the predictable and hyperpartisan Rep. Trey Gowdy to the more independent Sen. Charles Grassley, have tried to discredit the investigation. They haven’t gotten any traction. Privately, more and more Republicans expect the Trump-Russia scandal to mushroom. They recognize that Trump has made dangerous enemies by offending the intelligence community and, with the sacking of Comey, the FBI. They worry about whether they can escape the fallout.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist based in Washington.