Does anybody remember Russian collusion? Special prosecutors tend to stray far afield, as their power is virtually unchecked and the pressure to produce scalps is severe. Recent developments highlight that Robert Mueller’s probe now follows the historical precedents.
Mr. Mueller won a victory of sorts on Tuesday when a jury convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight counts, including tax and bank fraud. The jury deadlocked on 10 other charges, meaning Mr. Mueller’s success rate in the case was less than 50 percent.
None of these charges had anything to do with Russian collusion or President Donald Trump. But many Democrats are committed to removing the president from office before his current term ends, and the Manafort conviction will be tucked away in their quiver.
Nor was that the end of it. Just prior to the Manafort verdict, Mr. Trump’s former personal attorney pleaded guilty to eight charges, most involving tax crimes. Michael Cohen also told a judge Mr. Trump asked him to arrange payments to two women to keep them quiet during the 2016 campaign about alleged affairs. Democrats insist such an arrangement might violate campaign finance laws, which is debatable.
Again, nothing to do with Russian collusion, the reason for Mr. Mueller’s probe in the first place.
As expected, Mr. Trump downplayed Tuesday’s news. But the developments escalate problems for the White House. With midterms fast approaching, Republicans will now spend more time discussing Mr. Trump than policy. If Democrats take the House — which looks likely — restraint will almost certainly be a casualty as the party’s liberal wing, determined to overturn the 2016 election, demands impeachment. Never mind there’s no indication Mr. Mueller is prepared to charge the president with anything, let alone Russian collusion.
It would certainly be amusing to watch progressives explain how a minor campaign finance violation rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” while lying to a grand jury carries no such stigma. But any such circus would neuter the administration for at least two years.
Mr. Trump, of course, is not blameless. If your goal is to upset the D.C. establishment, better not to provide its seasoned defenders with ample ammunition when they launch their predictable defense. The Manafort-Cohen axis highlights the president’s tendency to surround himself with slimy sycophants. As Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra Saunders wrote this month, many of Mr. Trump’s shady associations represent “colossally bad judgment. And there is a price to pay for bad choices.”
Mr. Trump’s list of accomplishments has been impressive, particularly when it comes to tax policy, regulatory reform and judicial appointments. But too often, the president has been his own worst enemy — and until he comes to that realization and learns the value of humility, Mr. Trump risks drowning out his own political agenda in a dizzying din of distractions partly of his own making.