For months we’ve known what Donald Trump’s endgame strategy would be once the investigation into his Russia scandal reached his own top advisers. His strategy has been clear, both because it’s been easy to figure out, and because he’s openly bragged about it. But now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congressional investigators have indeed broached Trump’s inner circle, that singular strategy has suddenly imploded in a period of just twenty-four hours.
Trump’s strategy has always been straightforward enough: he was simply going to promise pardons to everyone who was being pressured to flip on him. Trump publicly floated the idea of pardons a few months back, in what was rather clearly a signal to his own people. Some have even theorized that Trump made a point of preemptively pardoning his political ally Joe Arpaio on contempt charges, just to prove to his Trump-Russia co-conspirators that he would take care of them as well. But then this Friday happened, and that strategy began imploding on two fronts.
This week Robert Mueller decided to skip over a number of people in the Trump senior staff hierarchy and jump straight to former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The only reason for Mueller to be talking to Priebus this early is if Priebus has indicated he’s interested in flipping. According to numerous reports, the two spent the entire day together on Friday, which suggests he did indeed flip. So much for the notion of Priebus remaining quiet and being willing to face potential conspiracy obstruction charges, and then banking on Trump pardoning him.
Of course Reince Priebus never really liked or trusted Trump to begin with. But then one of Donald Trump’s true allies also hit the panic button. Roger Stone, Trump’s friend of forty years and personal adviser, gave up the name of his WikiLeaks contact to the House Intel Committee on Friday (link). Stone could have been arrested for contempt of Congress, and he apparently wasn’t willing to count on a Trump pardon. Do Priebus and Stone no longer trust Trump to protect them, or do they fear his pardons wouldn’t hold up in court? In any case, Trump’s pardon strategy is now imploding.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report