WASHINGTON — A man is running to run the government he tried to overthrow while he was running it, even as he is running to stay ahead of the law.
That sounds loony, except in the topsy-turvy world of Donald Trump, where it has a grotesque logic.
The question now is: Has Trump finally run out of time, thanks to Jack Smith, who runs marathons as an Ironman triathlete? Are those ever-loving walls really closing in this time?
Or is Smith Muellering it?
We were expecting an epic clash when Robert Mueller was appointed in 2017 as a special counsel to head the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia and his potential obstruction of justice. It was the flamboyant flimflam man vs. the buttoned-down, buttoned-up boy scout.
Mueller, who had been a decorated Marine in Vietnam, was such a straight arrow that he never even deviated to wear a blue shirt when he ran the F.B.I.
Amid the Trump administration chaos, Mueller ran a disciplined, airtight operation as special counsel, assembling a dream team of legal talent. But regarding obstruction of justice, the final report was flaccid, waffling, legalistic.
Now, Mr. Smith goes to Washington. (That classic movie remembers a time when politicians got ashamed when they were caught doing wrong. How quaint.)
This special counsel is another straight arrow trying to deal with a slippery switchblade: In a masterpiece of projection, Trump has been denouncing Smith as a “deranged prosecutor” and “a nasty, horrible human being.” Trump has been zigzagging his whole life and now, unbelievably, he’s trying to zigzag back into the White House, seemingly intent on burning down the federal government and exacting revenge on virtually everyone.
So it will be interesting to see what the top lawyer with the severe expression makes of the bombastic dissembler. Smith seems like a no-nonsense dude who works at his desk through lunch from Subway while Trump is, of course, all nonsense, all the time.
Smith has a herculean task before him. He must present a persuasive narrative that Trump and his henchmen and women (yes, you, Ginni Thomas) were determined to pull off a coup.
His letter telling Trump he’s a target of the Jan. 6 investigation reportedly does not mention sedition or insurrection, which leaves people wondering exactly what Trump will be charged with.
Of all the legal troubles Trump faces, this is the case that makes us breathe, “Finally,” as Susan Glasser put it in The New Yorker. It is, as she wrote, the heart of the matter.
The Times reported that the letter referred to three criminal statutes: conspiracy to defraud the government; obstruction of an official proceeding; and — in a surprise move — a section of the U.S. code that makes it a crime to “conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person” in the “free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Initially, the story explained, that last statute was a tool to pursue the Ku Klux Klan and others who engaged in terrorism after the Civil War; more recently it has been used to prosecute cases of voting fraud conspiracies.
On an Iowa radio show on Tuesday, Trump warned it would be “very dangerous” if Smith jailed him, since his supporters have “much more passion than they had in 2020.”
A May trial date has already been set in Smith’s case against Trump for retaining classified documents — despite Trump’s effort to punt it past the election. And Smith should have an ironclad case on Trump defrauding America because defrauding is what he has been doing since the cradle — lying, cheating and lining his pockets, making suckers of nearly everyone while wriggling out of trouble.
Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis, Trump’s closest Republican challenger, defended Trump on Russell Brand’s podcast Friday, dismissing the idea that there was an overt effort to upend the 2020 election.
“The idea that this was a plan to somehow overthrow the government of the United States is not true,” DeSantis said, “and it’s something that the media had spun up just to try to basically get as much mileage out of it and use it for partisan and political aims.”
DeSantis seems almost as delusional as Trump when he denies what we saw before our eyes in the weeks after the election.
Just ask the Georgia officials who were pressured by Trump to “find 11,780 votes” or the police officers who were injured on Jan. 6. Remember the fake electors in Michigan and Georgia, among other places, and the relentless pressure on Mike Pence to invalidate the election results?
Trump ultimately might not be charged with staging an insurrection or sedition. And that would be a shame. For the first time, a president who lost an election nakedly attempted to hold onto power and override the votes of millions of Americans.
If that isn’t sedition, it’s hard to figure what is.