It's time to zoom out from the nano-hysteria du jour on the Mueller probe, and look for historical parallels to see what's going on and how it will play itself out.
To begin with, the details of the case are irrelevant since this is not a prosecution based on suspicion of a crime having been committed, and devoting precious finite resources to this rather than to other crimes. It's clearly a shape-shifting pretext used to further an attack in a collective conflict -- Team A targeting Team B, picking off as many as they can, however they can.
In this case, it's the Feds (DoJ and FBI) vs. Trump's circle. This witch hunt is not partisan, as all the principal actors are Republican. The Special Counsel investigation started with Russian interference in the 2016 election, but has gone in any direction from there that they please (unlike a real prosecution).
The Feds started the beef by putting Trump's circle under surveillance during the campaign, and turning up the heat even more after he won, by insinuating that his circle had colluded with the Russian government to swing the election away from its rightful winner, Crooked Hillary Clinton, who did not threaten to "drain the Swamp" or show up to the CIA headquarters to call them all a bunch of fifth columnists.
Trump escalated the feud by bumping off one of their top guys -- FBI Director Comey -- which prompted their side's de facto leader, Deputy AG Rosenstein, to appoint Special Counsel Mueller to hound the Trump circle about anything they could dig up, not only the Russian interference ideas.
But those are just the particular details -- they do not have anything to do with who's going to win the feud, as though there were some dispassionate God of Justice that will divinely intervene if the outcome looks to be going the wrong way for the side that has logic and evidence on its side. Nope: it all comes down to power dynamics. This is a pure power play between two sides, so that's what we will analyze.
Drawing on the theory of political cycles by Stephen Skowronek, we note that Trump (and his circle) belong to the dominant party -- the GOP, which has been dominant since the current political paradigm was established by that party in 1980 under Reagan. Dominant party presidents do not get impeached or de facto removed from office -- only opposition presidents suffer that fate. Clinton was a Democrat during Reaganite GOP dominance, Nixon was a Republican during New Deal Democrat dominance, and Andrew Johnson was a Democrat during Civil War Republican dominance.
Not surprisingly, those presidents also faced a hostile Congress -- both houses belonged to the rival, dominant party. A mismatch between the White House party and the Congress party already sets up for a showdown, but when the target president is from the opposition party, he begins in an even weaker position.
The dominant party uses their control over Congress to rein in a president from the opposition, lest they threaten the dominant party's paradigm. The facts of the matter are immaterial, and they will find whatever pretext they need to get revenge for the opposition president trying to undo a key element of the dominant party's paradigm.
In Johnson's case, it was slow-walking the abolition of slavery, a key plank of the dominant Republican paradigm during the Civil War. In Nixon's case, it was pulling out of the Vietnam War, when militarism was a key plank of the dominant New Deal Democrat paradigm. In Clinton's case, it was promoting universal healthcare, an assault weapons ban, and other liberal goals during the Reagan GOP paradigm.
Since Trump is from the dominant party, and so are both houses of Congress, we can conclude that he will not be impeached by the House, let alone removed by the Senate. Even if the Dems take over the House during the midterms, they will not also take over the Senate (the map is stacked against that). So they would face the choice of impeaching the president knowing full well that the Senate would reject it easily. They will be seen as having wasted a bunch of time, money, and emotional energy -- just for a big fat disappointment that was totally predictable from the start.
Clinton got impeached but not removed by the Senate, but that was not totally predictable -- with the Senate being controlled by the rival, dominant party, it was certainly possible. If a Dem-controlled House thinks of impeaching Trump, they know from the outset that they'll get shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, making their efforts knowingly pointless, rather than a risk they think is worth taking.
But what if a miracle happens and the Dems take back both houses of Congress? That never results in impeachment either, not even during the increasingly polarized climate of the past 40 years. Reagan's last two years were under a Dem-controlled Congress, as was all of Bush Sr's term, and the last two years of Bush Jr. Neither came close to getting impeached, and not for want of a pretext either -- there was the Iran-Contra scandal during the late '80s and early '90s, and the unpopular Iraq War during the late 2000s.
However, there were Special Counsel investigations that hit on those themes, and did result in taking out some of those close to the president. So we may see -- in fact, we are seeing -- that level of collective attack toward the president's circle. But unlike impeachment, these were totally internal factional fights within the dominant party. In neither case did the president himself get wounded personally. Therefore, neither will Trump himself.
The first case was the Special Counsel investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. We won't dwell on this one since the power dynamics didn't match those of today. They had a dominant GOP president and an opposition Democrat Congress. This case would only apply if Democrats took over both houses of Congress in the midterms and launched a new or beefed-up Special Counsel investigation for Trump's final two years.
The important points are as follows. Both the Special Counsel and those he was prosecuting were from the dominant party, making it internal rather than partisan. Those who got indicted or sentenced would later get pardons from Bush Sr, another member of the dominant party, in the last days of his presidency. The dominant party ultimately protects its own members.
When Congress is controlled by the opposition party, it may make the executive branch members of the dominant party concerned when scandal erupts. If the opposition Congress takes over the matter, they could start impeachment hearings. So instead, the dominant party gets out in front of things, and through executive branch options like a Special Counsel investigation, they open up what looks like an in-fight, although ultimately the president will pardon or commute the damage done to members of his party.
Rather than the Iran-Contra scandal that took place in the context of an opposition-controlled Congress, the Mueller probe is shaping up to be more like the Special Counsel investigation during a period when the dominant party controlled the White House and Congress -- the Iraq War-themed Valerie Plame affair of Bush Jr's first and second terms, although before the opposition party took over the Congress in 2007.
Briefly, the narrative went as follows. Bush was busy lying the American public into the Iraq War by insinuating that Saddam Hussein would soon have weapons of mass destruction, and toward that end he had tried to get uranium from Niger. The diplomat sent to Niger to investigate that claim, Joseph Wilson, wrote op-eds in the NYT saying Bush's claim was bogus. His wife was an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, who recommended her husband for the job of investigating the "Niger uranium" claim.
This public undercutting of Bush's rationale for war pissed off his administration, some of whom in the VP's circle decided to get back at the whistleblower. How? By revealing to a conservative columnist that the whistleblower's wife was a CIA agent, whose job and full name the columnist then revealed in a newspaper article. But it turns out she was undercover! With her cover blown, Plame's career as a spy was over -- and that's what you get for helping to undercut the "Saddam has WMDs" rationale that the admin was pushing to get us to accept the Iraq War.
That's what Special Counsel Fitzgerald was investigating. Again, forget these details of the case, since they don't matter -- power dynamics matter -- but just so the background is clear.
As in the Mueller probe, all the powerful characters were in-fighters from the same dominant party, the GOP -- the AG (Ashcroft) who recused himself just like Sessions, the Deputy AG who took over the investigation (Comey -- yes, the same one as now), the Special Counsel (Fitzgerald), the fantasy dream targets (President Bush and VP Cheney), and the members of the White House circle who actually did get investigated and/or indicted (Armitage, Rove, Libby). A Republican media columnist was also central (Novak), although he doesn't seem to have a counterpart in the Mueller probe.
As in the Mueller probe, it's impossible to summarize the shape-shifting course of the investigation and the acts it was investigating -- check out the Wikipedia entry linked above, and try digesting the gist of the zillion words in less than three weeks.
Or Google "valerie plame affair" and see how many endless results pages you get that seem to be talking about nothing, yet very seriously. Over ten years later, nobody remembers it who was not obsessed with the micro-scoops on it back during its original media-seizing run -- unlike Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, etc.
And these obsessives were from the opposition party, largely from the media sector, and were certain that something would be revealed from the Special Counsel that would bring down the illegitimate ("selected, not elected") president and his administration -- and wound up with nothing but a terminal case of blue balls.
In the end, only the Chief of Staff to the VP, Scooter Libby, got indicted, and even then Bush commuted the prison part of his sentence so that he avoided jail. One of the perks of being a dominant-party president is knowing that you and your circle will never be in any ultimate legal danger.
Libby didn't commit an underlying crime, but was found guilty of process crimes during the investigation itself (perjury and obstruction of justice). The true culprit of the underlying crime -- leaking that Plame was a CIA agent -- was the Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. Yet he was not prosecuted, even though the Special Counsel knew from the get-go that he was the culprit -- the Special Counsel just wanted to go on a fishing expedition to put a few more notches on his prosecutorial belt.
Analogizing from there to the Mueller probe, they find some crime related to the 2016 election, let's say a campaign finance violation from paying hush money to Stormy Daniels. Someone linked to it, say Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, will get indicted and/or sentenced. The president commutes or pardons Cohen. Maybe commutes or pardons Flynn, whose indictment is not related to the 2016 election (process crime). Maybe commutes or pardons Manafort, whose crime was also unrelated to the election -- money laundering long before -- although that seems harder to sustain, since it's not a mere process crime.
At any rate, nobody from the actual Trump administration gets indicted. Manafort and Cohen never joined the government, and Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of five seconds before Deep State railroaded him out. These people from his outside-the-government circle get protected.
Nobody remembers jack shit about any of the details of this investigation in 5-10 years, unless they were already addicted to the daily micro-scoops when it was originally on TV. Future observers are puzzled when they unearth how much media content was obsessively devoted to the investigation.
Trump's presidency, like Bush Jr's, does not get remembered fondly by most people, although the Special Counsel investigation will play no part in the story of what made it bad -- except perhaps as a meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of the investigation itself and its obsessive consumers in the media.
So, it's not crucial for Trump to somehow end the investigation. He himself is in no ultimate danger, and neither are the members of his circle. Worst case scenario, someone like Cohen gets an indictment on mickey-mouse charges like campaign finance violation, but gets pardoned anyway, and only carries some embarrassment afterward, which no one remembers.
The only thing that would put him in danger is if he keeps escalating his feud with the Feds -- firing Comey was what triggered the Special Counsel investigation to begin with, which is more powerful than the original FBI investigation into bogus Russian involvement in the election. The Feds would strike back this time as well, and he might also alienate members of his own party in Congress.
If enough of them disowned him from what they consider "their party," they wouldn't have his back any more than they would a president of the rival party or a third party. And since he's a disjunctive president, whose mission is to radically alter the paradigm of his own party, they already would like to see him leave office, so they can go back to their comfortable, familiar old paradigm of Reaganism.
As annoying as it is, he's just going to have to let the sucker burn itself out.