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STEINBERG: Mueller lets drop the first two shoes of the Russia probe

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller

Special counsel Robert Mueller | AP file photo

History is lived in retrospect, but reality unfolds moment by moment.

We know that former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort turned himself in to the FBI Monday is the first shoe — two shoes, as he was joined by business associate Rick Gates — to drop in the Robert Mueller III investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 campaign. For those of us who see the Trump administration as a siege of un-American values, it is an encouraging moment of hope after nine months of continual shocks, of jaw-dropping veers away from responsible leadership and good government.

But we don’t know if it’s the beginning of the unwinding of the chaotic Trump administration. Or the beginning of further descent into lawlessness as the president pushes back with all his twittery might. He is already condemning the investigation — by a special counsel his own Justice Department appointed — as a “witch hunt,” urging, with the “what-about-this?” reflex that passes for rebuttal of late, that Hillary Clinton be investigated instead. He might still simply fire Mueller, despite the Constitutional firestorm that would ignite.

Charges against the two include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder millions of dollars and making false statements — charges you can watch already being shrugged off by Republicans who spent years going after will-o’-the-wisps like which email server Clinton used and whether she had broken State Department email guidelines.

OPINION

This is the first shoe to drop, but there will be others. The way these investigations work is, the authorities begin on the outermost ring of a criminal enterprise and work themselves toward the center. The blind loyalty that Donald Trump demands from all those under him — indeed, from all Americans — is seen differently when viewed in light of a prison sentence. Think of a centipede sitting on the edge of the bed at the end of the day, taking off shoe after shoe, each one bigger than the last, each one falling with a bigger clomp.

The Republican Party has already sacrificed much in its support of Donald Trump: tossing the idea of truth, of a free media, of unfettered science over the side. Its feverish devotion to cutting deficits and balancing the budget are at this moment being sacrificed on the altar of big upper-income and corporate tax cuts, perhaps paid for by slashing tax benefits for 401(k) contribution, which up to now were Exhibit A in the far-right libertarian hope of scuttling Social Security.

Nothing seems able to dislodge Trump’s most loyal supporters — 38 percent think he’s doing a good job, a figure that is at the same time historically low and staggeringly high. They’ve already ignored behavior that dwarfs anything they’ve complained about in Democratic figures. Whether they can ignore colluding with America’s sworn enemy to throw a free election through fraud and corruption is another matter.

We don’t have to guess. All we have to do is wait and find out. In past crises, the United States has been saved by men and women who cared more for their country than for their careers or their reputations among their friends. Who believed in something bigger than narrow immediate self-interest. Who believe in justice, and the law. Robert Mueller is one such man. We will soon find out how many others there are. More shoes are coming.