How we’ll know when Trump is done

Loved this piece from Lawfare’s Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes.  They construct an elaborate metaphor of Mueller laying siege to Trump’s presidency and extensively follow it through.  As a lover of medieval history, I was a sucker for the siege metaphor.  And, I think it works pretty well:

It happens this way every time: A big news event in the Trump-Russia investigation takes place, and commentators talk about it as though a house of cards were collapsing or a row of dominoes were falling. Each time, it’s the beginning of the end. Each indictment or plea is the “big one.” And then those expectations are disappointed. The sun rises the next day—in the east, as expected—and it sets in the west, as it did the day before. The Trump presidency endures…

But the underlying metaphors are wrong. There is no sudden bend in the path of the investigation. There is no house of cards. The dominoes will not fall if gently tipped. The administration is not going to come crashing down in response to any single day’s events. The architecture of Trump’s power is more robust than that.

We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.

Siege warfare is not a matter of striking precisely the correct blow at the correct moment at a particular stone in the wall. It is a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time. While those inside the fortified city may rely only on the strength of their walls and their stored resources, the attackers can take their time. Volleys of projectiles—arrows or trebuchets—pepper the city walls and those atop them, while the strength of the defending army diminishes as soldiers slip away and food dwindles. Moreover, active conflict is an episodic, not a constant, feature of siege warfare; the enemy army can encamp outside the walled city and blockade it without firing a shot. Over time, the walls and defending forces become degraded to such a degree that the invaders are able to scale the walls and sack the city.

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

Mueller’s army isn’t the only force encircling Trump’s fortress, but it is the largest and most active force, and it actually has several distinct encampments.

Lots of details of Mueller’s “siege” follows and this is a great piece if you are into the Mueller details.  But, here, I think is the key point:

So what will the big one look like, if not some Mueller-lobbed bombshell? When the walls are finally breached, how will we know that it really is the beginning of the end? Here’s a hint: The big one will not be a legal development, an indictment, or a plea. It will be a political development—that moment when the American political system decides not to tolerate the facts available to it any longer. What does that look like? It looks like impeachment. It looks like enough Republicans breaking with the president to seriously jeopardize his chances of renomination or reelection. The legal developments will degrade the walls. But only this sort of political battering ram can breach them.

That sounds about right.  But at this point, it is almost hard to imagine what legal development leads to that political development.  I wonder if Republicans would rally around Trump if there were a tape of him pledging fealty to Putin in exchange for a loan.

Anyway, I think they are right that we should stop looking for any legal “smoking gun.”  But, hey, lob enough giant rocks from trebuchets and just maybe Trump’s walls weaken enough that we do get that political response.

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