I take no glee in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign had ties to Russia -- and I say that as a consistent critic of Donald Trump's from the day he announced his quest for the presidency. I have watched too many of these investigations, of both Democrats and Republicans, go bad. Whitewater, which started out as an inquiry into whether the Clintons had received improper financial favors in a land deal, morphed into inquiries into the president's sexual behavior with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, which resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, though he was not convicted. The Iran-Contra affair began as an inquiry into whether Oliver North, a midlevel National Security Council staffer in the Reagan White House, had facilitated arms sales to the Iranians as part of an effort to release American hostages and then used funds from the sale to finance the anti-communist guerillas fighting in Nicaragua; it ended with indictments of officials who had little or nothing to do with the scheme and the overturning of North's convictions because he had been given immunity by Congress to testify on the issue.
Who knows how Russiagate will turn out? No one. But it will damage this White House, impede the president's agenda and sully everyone it touches. The only hope is that the investigation can be concluded quickly, but that hope is slender. This is a complex investigation -- perhaps the most complex we've ever seen -- because of the man at the center of the inquiry. Donald Trump's empire is built on secrecy, properties, assets and partnerships shielded in layers of limited liability corporations whose finances are likely to be anything but transparent, even if we had Trump's tax records (which special counsel Robert Mueller may subpoena). The best forensic accountants will have trouble following the money trail, even if some paths lead to Russian oligarchs and financial institutions.
I remain skeptical that the financial ties between Russian actors and Trump that might well exist would be evidence that the president was colluding with Russia in disrupting the election. My guess is that Trump often needed to be bailed out of bad financial decisions and that the Russians were there to help over the years. Like the gambler who borrows from shady characters to pay his gambling debts, Trump may have taken the money, no questions asked. As for those around Trump, the evidence may be more compelling. But again, who knows? We'll see -- eventually.
The best thing Trump could do would be to cooperate and be quiet. He probably won't do either. He's already tweeted out that the whole thing is a witch hunt and said he is the most persecuted president in history. Trump is his own worst enemy, and those who want to protect him do him no favors by not telling him so loud and clear. Someone needs to take away his Twitter account and cut the cord on cable news. The president needs an extreme makeover, a special handler who is with him 24/7, someone who can say: "You're not a victim. You're the president of the United States. Now act like it, sir!"
If something doesn't change quickly, this presidency is over -- if not in fact, in effect. Trump is imploding. His own party is getting sick of his drama and ineffectiveness. He will remain commander in chief (which is worrisome, given his erratic, irrational behavior), but he cannot be a leader for his party, much less the country, if he doesn't stop doing what he's been doing all his life -- whatever he feels like, no matter how inappropriate.
It is deeply worrying that all of this is happening on the eve of the president's trip to the Middle East and Europe. He will do irreparable damage if he behaves as he has to date. The whole world is watching -- our friends, as well as our enemies. We are facing the most dangerous time in America since the end of the Cold War, and we are doing so without a real leader.