Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | 2 a.m.
When it comes to presidential obstruction, at least Watergate started with a crime.
After 675 days, more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, $30 million spent, endless jaw-jaw on cable and countless whiny Trump tweets, we have come down to one fundamental truth.
And it’s the same truth that has been terrorizing us all along: President Donald Trump’s dirtbag machinations are driven by insane vanity.
The First Narcissist’s all-consuming blend of braggadocio and insecurity has turned Washington and its rickety institutions into a dystopian outpost of his id.
Trump obstructed on nearly every page of Volume II of the special counsel’s report, even though Robert Mueller was too lost in legalese to throw the book at him. The report counts as the Worst Exoneration Ever, replete with incrimination.
And Trump’s motivation for trying to subvert justice and turn the White House into a writhing nest of liars? His ego.
He did not want people to think the Russians were responsible for his election, that he was an illegitimate president.
And why was this the burr under his sociopathic saddle? Obviously, because he thinks he is an illegitimate president. He never expected to win.
The idea that he is in the Oval Office under false pretenses plays into his twisted sense of victimhood. The spoiled scion of Fifth Avenue somehow always finds a way to be aggrieved, a victim of the media, the deep state, “dirty cops,” note-taking aides and the elites — all out to get him.
It’s the same reason he is still talking at rallies about that “beautiful map” of his Electoral College victory, with its large swaths of red. And the same reason he focuses on ratings and crowd sizes and subscription numbers and all the other puerile citations of his ego arithmetic.
We can’t know for sure if there is a more sinister reason for Trump’s obstruction because Mueller didn’t put him under the interrogation lights. The special counsel did not provide any insight into whether Vladimir Putin has something on him.
All we know for now is that Trump’s advisers, talking under oath to federal prosecutors, attributed his actions to his fear of being seen as illegitimate.
“Several advisers recalled that the president-elect viewed stories about his Russian connections, the Russia investigations and the intelligence community assessment of Russian interference as a threat to the legitimacy of his electoral victory,” noted Volume II.
Hope Hicks, the former Trump communications director, told investigators that Trump considered the assessment his “Achilles’ heel” because if people thought Russia helped him win, it would take away from his own accomplishment. Sean Spicer, Rick Gates and Reince Priebus echoed this point.
In other words, “boss man,” as Hicks called him, would be a loser.
Despite the American carnage shown in the report, Republicans were mostly staring uncomfortably at their wingtips. Angry Democrats, if they had their way, would put Trump protector William Barr in the dock, right beside Trump.
The closest we get to a hero in the sordid report is the former White House counsel Don McGahn.
While Trump was a whirl of ignorance, vindictiveness and self-destruction, some advisers stopped him from going over the edge by ignoring his “crazy shit,” as McGahn called it.
The president called McGahn at home twice on June 17, 2017 — which happened to be the 45th anniversary of the Watergate burglary — to order injustice at Justice by telling Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Trump was using a lame pretext of a conflict of interest involving the Trump golf club in Virginia where Mueller had once been a member.
“McGahn recalled the president telling him ‘Mueller has to go’ and ‘Call me back when you do it,’ ” the report stated.
The White House counsel knew to hit the brakes and shelve Trump’s demand. As the report noted: “McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the acting attorney general to fire the special counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not ‘Saturday Night Massacre Bork.’ ”
The thuggish Don in the White House obviously regards McGahn as his Sammy the Bull rat, calling him a “lying bastard.”
Of course, McGahn, the shaggy-haired libertarian who plays guitar in an ’80s cover band, needed to put up with the volatile president long enough to fulfill his own agenda: cementing the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and salting lower federal courts with hard-right conservatives who are going to be around for decades.
McGahn did Trump two huge favors. He kept him from firing Mueller, which would have put a nail in the presidential coffin. And he delivered Trump’s greatest triumph on the right, conspiring with Mitch McConnell to fill the courts with socially conservative judges intent on undoing government regulation.
Ironically, Trump’s most lasting legacy was engineered by the same guy who shivved the president hardest in the Mueller report.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.