A bad day for the White House could turn out to be a good day for justice and democratic accountability and institutions.
Robert Mueller’s appointment Wednesday as special counsel to probe Russian election meddling and any collusion by Trump campaign aides elevates the investigation clear of partisanship and the threat of White House interference.
It therefore may offer the best chance for a politically bulletproof accounting of the guilt or innocence of members of the President’s inner circle.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to opt for a special counsel is also an antidote to fears that the US political system still has the capacity to investigate itself and its most powerful players.
A presidency that had seemed in danger of slipping legal restraints — for example after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in an apparent bid to shut down the FBI Russia investigation — now appears constrained by the rule of law.
“I think it in one sense it is bad news for Trump and it is good news for people who want a robust investigation because Mueller is definitely a straight shooter and he has a good reputation as an FBI director,” said Jens David Ohlin, a Cornell University law professor.
“It means that the investigation goes on. It is not going to be stopped and it also means that the Deputy Attorney General doesn’t want to do Trump’s bidding on this.”
The checks and balances of democracy, in other words, hold.
Wednesday’s announcement might also be remembered as the moment that the norms that apply to other politicians finally also ensnared Trump. For so long, the President has broken rules that govern public life.
So confident was he of his own immunity to convention that he once boasted he could shoot someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose voters.
But as President, that impunity has been challenged and Trump’s behavior became a liability. Ultimately, had he not fired Comey in a fit of pique about the Russia investigation, it might never had emerged that he reportedly asked the FBI chief to cool it in his investigation.