The big question after the Justice Department announced that a special counsel would investigate Russian interference into the 2016 election was how President Donald Trump would react.
The initial signs could have been worse. Trump issued a statement that didn’t directly challenge the legitimacy of Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed to conduct the investigation. White House aides told Politico that Trump’s reaction was “extremely measured” and that he “didn't yell or scream” at the room in front of him.
But the presidential eruption came anyway — less than 12 hours later, in fact. Early Thursday morning, Trump lashed out against the investigation on Twitter, calling it the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Of course, this is not true. Trump is very clearly not the target of the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history,” an honor that probably belongs to George Burroughs of Salem.
Wrong again. In 1692 Ann Putnam accused the former Salem Village minister, George Burroughs, of being the master of all witches in MA. https://t.co/VVVGblaWH1— Larry Murphy (@LarryMurphyJr) May 18, 2017
But the president has been increasingly demanding recognition as a victim. At a commencement address on Wednesday, he said that “no politician in history ... has been treated more unfairly,” which is pretty flatly false.
All of it suggests that Trump is treating news of the probe into his campaign’s ties with Russia very poorly. Even his statement reacting to the special counsel, which won praise for being subdued, marked a sharp break from the tones of presidents past. (Previous presidents have welcomed the investigation and vowed the White House’s cooperation; Trump did neither.)
Democrats and left-wing activists celebrated the special counsel appointment Wednesday night, arguing that it was a welcome step toward getting to the bottom of the probe.
But that’s only true if Trump lets it. The president still has the authority to fire the deputy attorney general and replace him with someone who has orders to end the special counsel probe. There’s no sign yet that he’d have the brazenness to do so. But given how outraged the president appeared Thursday morning, the possibility doesn’t seem totally off the table, either.