Here’s the thing about Donald Trump: he always tries to cheat things and rig things in his favor. But here’s another consistent thing about Trump: whenever he feels that he has to do this cheating in secret, and he gets caught, he quickly claims it never happened, and he backs down. This often blows up in his face, but perhaps never so swiftly and thoroughly as it did last night.
Trump and his White House thought that they could get away with secretly and severely limiting the scope of the FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in the hope of protecting him from criminal liability. They might have been able to get away with this, if they’d been more sensible about it. For instance, according to NBC News, Trump told the FBI not to investigate Kavanaugh’s drinking problem presumably to shield him from perjury charges for the lies he told to the Senate about his drinking habits. Maybe no one would have noticed before the vote that the FBI report skipped over this part. But Team Trump took it a step too far.
Trump also told the FBI it couldn’t investigate the claims made by Julie Swetnick. This was his big mistake. When media-savvy attorney Michael Avenatti realized that the FBI had reached out to Deborah Ramirez but not to his client Swetnick, he immediately went public with this discrepancy. This prompted the media to begin poking around, which gave someone in the FBI the chance to expose all of the various limitations that Trump had placed on the probe.
This quickly became so controversial on Saturday night, Donald Trump felt compelled to try to quell the controversy by posting a late night tweet giving the FBI free rein to spend the week doing whatever it wanted to. Whether Trump intended it or not, this tweet was a legally binding order, and shortly afterward, the FBI revealed that it had indeed begun investigating the Swetnick allegations.
There was no way that Donald Trump was going to be able to pull off secretly blocking the FBI from investigating the Swetnick claims without anyone figuring it out. Because he was arrogant enough to try, the resulting scandal has forced him to back down from all the restrictions he was trying to place on the Kavanaugh probe. He probably could have gotten away with the rest of it. But because he took it too far, he just opened the floodgates. He also unwittingly told the FBI precisely which topics and witnesses Kavanaugh is most afraid of. This was a phenomenal screw-up.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report