In Washington, the ‘first law of holes’ is one of those shopworn maxims that are so familiar, they need not be spoken. It’s like what you should do if you want a friend in the capital: ‘Get a dog’ goes without saying.
But maybe things are different where Donald Trump came from. And maybe that’s why he didn’t know what to do when he found his young presidency in a small hole involving contacts between a few of his underlings and Russian officials.
Now he’s learning the local folklore the hard way. The first law of holes is, if you’re in one, stop digging. Three times, Trump heard assurances from former FBI director James Comey that the Russia investigation wasn’t aimed at him. Instead of putting his shovel down, though, Trump worked it furiously. According to Comey’s sworn testimony, Trump pushed the G-man for a public exoneration, and when Comey demurred, he may have pressed his case with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. Unsatisfied, he fired Comey in ham-fisted fashion, then reportedly boasted to Russian visitors that he did it to take pressure off the investigation. Now he’s in the hounded condition of various predecessors: struggling to regain control of the agenda, lashing out at aides, shouting at television sets and peppering his dig-the-hole-deeper tweets with all-caps exasperation.
He blames his enemies, but guess what? All Presidents have enemies. Successful ones try to outsmart them. Trump’s own actions have turned a small hole into a yawning abyss: a special counsel’s investigation that could run from the Oval Office to Trump Tower and command headlines for the next year or more. Trump has traded the anguished Hamlet Comey for the adamantine Marine Robert Mueller, the Justice Department ramrod who remade the FBI after 9/11. As special counsel appointed in the wake of the Comey firing, Mueller has one job, no deadline and bottomless resources, and he is assembling an all-star team of veteran prosecutors whose expert backgrounds go beyond counterintelligence to include money laundering, corporate fraud and the limits of Executive Branch power.
Sensing the trouble he had dug himself into, Trump tweeted, “You are witnessing the single greatest Witch hunt in American political history.” Perhaps all Presidents feel the same way if they find themselves under the withering gaze of a high-profile investigator. Whether called a “special prosecutor” in the Richard Nixon era or “independent counsel” in the Bill Clinton years or “special counsel” today, the specific powers change, but the overall effect is quite the same. Trump’s predecessors could tell him that such investigations are sometimes survivable, but they are not controllable. Trump is at the front end of political cancer treatment: live or die, it will be a draining, miserable experience.
But the President won’t go through it alone. The whole country will be dragged along. From congressional hideaways to country-club fairways, from newsrooms to lunchrooms, from skyscraper to silo, the realization is sinking in: this is going to be with us for quite a while.
Read more at TIME.