Trump is terrified Mueller will become a TV star
If the special prosecutor talks, in public and on camera, the president's narrative on Russian meddling could be severely damaged
If President Trump ever makes a statement or commits an action that seems open, transparent, and reasonable, just give him two or three days and he's sure to walk it back.
For example, on Friday, Trump said he would be willing to let Attorney General William Barr decide if Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who investigated his administration's links to Russia, would be allowed to testify before Congress. On Sunday, the president changed his mind, and announced the switch via Twitter, naturally.
What's Trump so afraid of?
He's worried Mueller is going to become a TV star.
So far, every bit of information that has been made public about Mueller's investigation into the Trump administration's links to Russia — and the president's attempts to shut down that investigation — has been subject to fierce spin from the president and his partisans. Trump has stuck to the usual "NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION" line, and Barr, along with Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the usual suspects, have echoed that assertion ad nauseam.
But we haven't heard from Mueller himself.
Mueller's report is a good deal more complicated — and less exculpatory — than Trump's claims would suggest. If Mueller talks, in public and on camera, the president's narrative could be severely damaged. We know this is the case because Mueller has already told us so, in the "snitty" letter he sent to Barr complaining about the way his report was being publicly characterized.
"There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation," Mueller wrote on March 27. "This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the [Justice] Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."
In plain English: Barr's summary of Mueller's report misled the public.
That became obvious when the redacted Mueller report was released last month. Barr claimed Mueller "did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated" with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
Actually, Mueller's report documented something more insidious. He wrote that, "the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign itself expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts," and that people affiliated with Trump's campaign "lied to the office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters."
The bottom line is this: The Russians helped Trump's campaign. And Trump's campaign, far from refusing that outside help, was happy to have it. The prose of Mueller's report is so dryly bureaucratic that it's almost easy to miss this damning detail. But if Mueller discussed these allegations in footage that would no doubt be replayed on CNN all day, and in soundbites that would be distributed on Twitter for maximum viral impact, they would be far less forgettable.
Trump can't be bothered to read his briefing books, but the former reality TV star knows the power of the video image better than any president of modern times. He surely understands that Mueller's biggest threat to him isn't as the author of a 448-page report that Barr can spin, then toss on a dusty shelf. The real threat is if Mueller becomes an instant TV star by knocking down the central pillars of Trump's "Russia hoax" narrative.
Remember: The singer R. Kelly faced accusations of mistreating young women and girls for years before authorities recently brought charges against him. What changed? Surviving R. Kelly, a documentary that put his accusers on camera, and let them tell their stories directly to viewers. Would Mueller's live Congressional testimony have similar results, changing the public's perception of Trump's story? Trump's media experience might lead him to think so.
Mueller, to his everlasting credit, has done everything in his power to avoid becoming a television talking head, even dodging a reporter waiting for him outside church. At this point, however, his continued silence only serves to further the public confusion about his investigation. He can serve his country best by testifying before Congress. The special prosecutor, it turns out, is the reality TV star America needs.