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If President Trump is innocent of the Russia accusations, he should be happy — and cautious — about the special counsel AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Donald Trump exits the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 3, 2017, before boarding Marine One for the short flight to nearby Andrews Air Force Base, Friday, March 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

I don’t know if President Trump or members of his campaign knowingly colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election. It’s plausible, certainly, though as it pertains to Trump personally, I have doubts.

Specifically: Does any observer of the past four months believe he is savvy enough to pull off such a master manipulation ? or that, having done so, he could have kept quiet about it this long? The man loves to boast of his victories. It is hard to imagine he wouldn’t shout one of this scale from the rooftops.

So let’s say, for the sake of argument, Trump is completely innocent where Russia is concerned. He did not collude; he would never have condoned collusion; he is appalled at any and every such effort to undermine our storied republic.

Fine. If that is the case, Trump’s proper reaction to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russia allegations should be happiness ? and caution.

Why happiness? Well, for two reason, as Perry Bacon Jr. at FiveThirtyEight explains. The first is that Trump should welcome this chance to prove his innocence:

Trump can now say there is an independent investigation going on, by someone he did not personally appoint and who is not beholden to his party. And Mueller has very strong credentials. The president and his team, in theory, can turn the focus to governing, while deferring questions about the investigation. […] Most importantly, Mueller can exonerate the president. If this is a high-risk development for Trump, it also comes with a big reward if Trump hasn?t done anything seriously wrong.

And second, as Bacon adds, if Mueller clears Trump, that’s a serious blow to Democrats in 2018:

[Were no special counsel appointed,] Democrats could have pounded Trump and Republicans on their lack of accountability every day till next year?s midterms. Mueller has a reputation for independence, like Comey. How he approaches this investigation is unpredictable, and that has risks for Democrats. (Ask Hillary Clinton.) And because Democrats have effusively praised Mueller?s appointment, they?ll have trouble criticizing him later on ? or re-litigating the Russia issue ? if he exonerates Trump.

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In short, if Trump is indeed innocent, his complaint that this is a “witch hunt” and “unfair” treatment is groundless. It’s actually the best realistic scenario for him to stay president.

But second, the caution. Still assuming innocence, this investigation means Trump’s name can be cleared, not that it will be. Attorney and Popehat blogger Ken White explained on Twitter:

As White tweeted, innocent people can and do fair poorly under investigation if they panic and start lying, talking too much, ignoring good legal advice or ” hiring inappropriate/sycophantic attorneys,” and generally trying to micromanage the entire process.

Sound familiar? White concludes:

If President Trump is innocent, as we have here assumed, he should welcome this independent investigation. But he should also get his act together, because innocent or guilty, he cannot emerge from this investigation unscathed if his behavior remains as absurdly incautious as it has been these past few weeks.

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