It could become the most widely read government document in recent political history — assuming it is ever released, of course.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally submitted his report on the “salacious and unverified” allegations that President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign may have ‘colluded’ with the Russian government
Now, virtually every Washington faction and power center has a stake in its findings.
As he calculates his response to Mueller’s revelations, how well President Trump absorbs the lessons of history may well determine his presidential legacy.
The media’s obvious point of comparison, as the Mueller probe dragged on, was Watergate. But I believe how President Ronald Reagan responded to the Iran-Contra affair offers a far more edifying precedent.
No two men were more central to the Iran-Contra affair than President Ronald Reagan and Oliver North, the Marine Lieutenant Colonel and NSC staff member.
After the scandal broke, both men were called upon to explain what they knew about the sale of weapons to Iran, and the use of those profits to fund the Contra guerrillas who were fighting against the Socialist Nicaraguan government — both illegal actions at the
President Reagan wasted no time in doing all he could to make it right. He knew the only way to prove his innocence to the American people was to immediately put himself on the right side of the issue.
Reagan appointed his own “Tower Commission” to investigate the matter, and voluntarily permitted himself to be interviewed. Reagan refused immunity, and by doing so in plain sight convinced many of his innocence.
Sen. John Tower was the chairman of the eponymous panel. Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine, a much respected Democrat, served on it as well.
Once the facts were laid bare, Reagan appeared on national television and let the American people know that as President of the United States, the buck stopped with him.
He was accountable, he apologized, he was open, and he resolved to earn their forgiveness.
The bottom line: Reagan got ahead and stayed ahead of the story.
The Independent Counsel in charge of the Justice Department’s investigation, Lawrence Walsh, said in his final report that Reagan was unaware of Col. North’s activities.
Though his popularity and job approval took a temporary hit, Reagan’s openness and honesty contributed to a quick recovery from the scandal.
Col. North, on the other hand, did all he could to complicate the investigation. He burned thousands of documents and choked shredders with classified files. He also would later confess that he had misled Congress.
Despite his desperate effort to cover up the Iran-Contra affair, and his three initial convictions, all charges against North were eventually dismissed. Today, he serves as the president of the National Rifle Association.
North claimed he briefed Reagan on the operation at Camp David, but Reagan fumed in his private diaries that not only did he not know about the sale of weapons, but that North had never been to Camp David.
Flash forward to today. Trump has every right to defend himself and his family. And of course he has every right to a presumption of innocence — a right that has been largely ignored in the race to make headlines.
But none of that matters now. The most important lesson for Trump to learn from Reagan is this: No matter what the Mueller report ultimately reveals — or, more precisely, what is revealed to the public — how he responds as president will have a tremendous impact on public opinion going forward.
If as has been reported the administration plans to portray the whole matter as a de facto attempted coup, President Trump should let others make that case for him.
He should try to stay above the fray and position himself as a leader supporting the public’s need to know. After all, he has an election coming up.
Reagan survived his own scandal, went on to recover in the polls, and went down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents. In part, he did so because he knew how to create a story, rather than constantly be the story. That’s an important distinction.
Democrats will say: If Trump has nothing to hide, why doesn’t he call for the report’s release?
How openly Trump responds could well determine the course of his presidency — and whether he wins re-election.
“There was no collusion,” the president declared Friday. “There was no obstruction. Everybody knows it. It’s all a big hoax. It’s all a witch hunt.”
Now that the report has been released, Trump’s fate may hinge on whether he’s ready, willing, and able to follow Ronald Reagan’s playbook.
Reagan biographer Craig Shirley is a frequent contributor to Newsmax magazine and a Newsmax Insider columnist.
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