Turn on him with what, exactly? As Chait and Barro write, these people are at least aspirationally standing up for Trump, and yet their comments have a clear subtext of guilt. They all start with the premise that Trump has something to hide. You can’t flip on someone unless you’ve got something to offer prosecutors. Usually, the defenders of suspects in prosecutors’ cross-hairs loudly proclaim their innocence, and insist that the investigation will ultimately vindicate them. But Trump’s chorus is singing from a different hymnal.
The same worry underlies agitation from the White House about Special Counsel Robert Mueller extracting a guilty plea and offer of cooperation from Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign manager, and about the pressure Mueller is putting on Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman. Since Manafort was the campaign chair, the only person Mueller could really want him to turn on is Trump himself; and since indictments against Manafort suggest a very strong case, the special counsel presumably doesn’t need Gates to turn on Manafort, and wants his help in getting information on Trump, too.
The appearance of having something to hide also hovers behind Trump’s threats to fire either Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Mueller. While there are Trump allies who can concoct claims of wrongdoing by either one, it’s clear that the real point is to restrict the special-counsel probe. Besides, Trump already fired James Comey and said it was because he was upset about the Russia investigation, so there’s precedent. (Trump contradicted his own prior explanation this week.)
Implicit guilt also shadows rumors about Trump offering pardons to Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser, and to Manafort, as well as the message-pardon granted to Lewis Libby last week. And when Trump seethes at Mueller investigating his financial affairs, and declares the Trump Organization to be on the wrong side of a red line, one wonders what he is so worried about.
Left-leaning pundits are not alone in picking up on this tension. In March, after then-Trump lawyer John Dowd called for an end to the Mueller probe, Representative Trey Gowdy, the GOP chair of the House Oversight Committee, expressed surprise.
“If you look at the jurisdiction for Robert Mueller, first and foremost what did Russia do to this country in 2016. That is supremely important and it has nothing to do with collusion,” he said. “So to suggest that Mueller should shut down and that all he’s looking at is collusion, if you have an innocent client Mr. Dowd, act like it.”
One obvious response to this is to assume that the reason Trump’s lawyers and other allies aren’t acting like they have an innocent client or friend is that they don’t. If that is so, though, the question is what the Trump insiders believe the president might be guilty of.