Lost In all of the chaos and drama surrounding the release of the top-secret memo is a much simpler story: Donald Trump, a member of the take-no-prisoners school of life and business, is willing to take any fight to any level. Blunt force is his friend, especially if it's used to gain leverage. And leverage -- and winning -- is of course the ultimate goal.
No matter what American carnage, to borrow a Trump inaugural phrase.
So as we see Trump take on the FBI and the intelligence community (despite telling Republicans Thursday "we support the men and women of law enforcement"), remember this: Roy Cohn, one of the original masters of disaster who helped enable Sen. Joe McCarthy's red-baiting, is one of Trump's heroes, once his mentor. He has been known to pine for the modern-day equivalent of Cohn, which he hasn't found.
So he has to be his own Cohn.
He is, as one source who knows him well says, "a New Yorker who escalates much further than you -- or anyone you know -- is probably willing to escalate." Bob Mueller, the buttoned-down Brahmin, is facing a street fighter for whom being under siege is a way of life.
In fact, Trump thrives on it. The game is his oxygen.
So, what's the endgame?
It's actually not complicated, according to multiple sources who know Trump well: destabilize the Mueller investigation -- and its investigators -- without directly taking on Mueller. So if Mueller wants Trump to testify, he can always say "why would I?" Instead of simply "no." He can claim it's unfair to require him to sit down with the very people who were out to get him, and try to claim the moral high ground at the same time.
It may not work, but it's exactly what he's doing.
In order to succeed, special counsel investigations need public opinion on their side. (Remember Ken Starr, who lost it?) What better way to gain leverage than to attack the credibility of the investigators? The fight then moves to the public court, where Trump has the bullhorn.
The problem, of course, is that this theory of the game gets interrupted constantly -- by pushback from the institutions Trump derides. He became President by busting norms and assailing institutions, and he hasn't stopped. The institutions -- the judicial branch, the Congress -- may fight him, but he has no allegiance to them, or to history or precedent.
The survival strategy could crumble as the chaos increases -- if the President decides to fire a (fill-in-the-blank) member of his senior law enforcement staff, creating a constitutional crisis. Or if the memo produces an unclear result. Or if Team Trump turns on itself in interviews with Mueller.
And what if the President, in the end, is staring at a subpoena? Knowing Trump, as we do, he stares right back. Or asks someone to fix it (Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, if they're still around?) And fights, no matter what.
"If you fight back," complains Trump, mocking his critics, "oh, it's obstruction."
Let's see what Bob Mueller has to say about that.
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