President Trump (or his staff) reacted to the appointment of a special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign with uncharacteristic restraint.
"As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity," the president said in a White House statement. "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."
When President Clinton faced special counsels investigating him, he often talked about how he was fighting for the people and issues that mattered most for the future of the country, but his prosecutors and persecutors were getting in the way.
Yet Clinton's experience is instructive. We do not know what, if anything, the investigation will uncover about Russia and the Trump campaign. We do know that the matter is unlikely to conclude quickly.
Independent counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Whitewater. He wound up getting Clinton impeached over Monica Lewinsky. These investigations are like the wheel in "The Original Amateur Hour": Round and round they go, where they stop, nobody knows.
Trump remains the star of this White House reality show, but he is no longer writing the script.
The Clintons are indulged when they complain about media and political persecution. Trump, like Richard Nixon before him, will not be.
Nevertheless, Trump inadvertently set in motion the process that led to former FBI Director Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel. He abruptly fired Mueller's successor James Comey and promptly undercut any rationale for the dismissal unrelated to the Russia probe.
Then Trump baited Comey by implying he may have taped their conversations. As former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller predicted on Twitter, Comey took notes on them, with contents hinting at obstruction of the Mike Flynn investigation getting leaked to the New York Times.
All this increased bipartisan support for some type of independent investigation of Trump and Russia. When Mueller's appointment was finally announced, many Republicans in Congress and some outside allies like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich actually seemed relieved.
The slowness of the special counsel process works against Trump in many ways. It could take up the entirety of his presidency or even outlast it. It could respond to any lack of evidence against the president by playing up the shadiness of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone or Carter Page. It could also morph into other areas more problematic for Trump, since his past and business portfolio present a target-rich environment.
One area where it helps Trump, however. It likely forestalls any more aggressive action by his opponents in Congress. Most lawmakers will want to wait on Mueller before backing an independent commission, much less impeachment.
People, even partisans, who were growing impatient with the congressional investigations will give Mueller a little more time. And if they don't, the alternative will no longer be alleged Republican foot-dragging.
If the president can maintain the economy of words found in his Wednesday evening statement on Mueller's appointment, the White House can repeatedly punt on Russia questions by refusing to comment on an ongoing investigation.
That's undoubtedly a big if. Trump has a way of undoing the most carefully crafted talking points designed to protect him. Not even the West Wing can save him from himself.
The last few days have probably reminded Trump of the darkest hours of the campaign, such as when the "Access Hollywood" tape leaked and exposed his vulgar braggadocio.
Democrats launched full-throated attacks while Republicans were muted in their response, if they didn't abandon him entirely. Words Trump thought impolitic were suddenly being described as crimes — sexual assault then, obstruction of justice now. The political professionals were nowhere to be found.
Then, as Trump so often reminds us, the Republican worrying was for naught. He won anyway.
Whether Trump comes out of his latest problems with a win is now entirely outside of his control.