Generally the murkiest facts and controversies of a president’s pre-election life matter less to his political health than what he does from inside the White House.
Remember Barack Obama’s ex-pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, whose inflammatory statements drew big coverage during the 2008 campaign?
Or the Democrat’s widely publicized acquaintance with 1960s radical “Weatherman” Bill Ayers?
Those pre-White House controversies faded once Obama won. The hits Obama took came from such fiascoes as the promise, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”
The so-called Whitewater and Troopergate uproars faced long ago by Bill Clinton dated back to his Arkansas days. They didn’t overwhelm his presidency.
When Clinton was impeached, it was for what he did — and swore he didn’t do — while occupying the Oval Office.
The charges involved lying while president about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky — though that case partly stemmed from his conduct during a mid-1990s lawsuit by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas employee who charged sexual harassment.
Now it remains to be seen how President Donald Trump’s situation might fit the general rule that Inauguration Day draws a line between what counts more and what counts less.
Congressional Democrats keep evoking the role of Russian hackers and propagandists in the 2016 election. The Trump campaign’s actions have drawn FBI and congressional scrutiny.
But the bigger concern is what Trump has said and done during his first four months as president.
That trouble could stem from his firing of James Comey as FBI director, or from his appointment and retention for several weeks of Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.
By reportedly bad-mouthing Comey to Russian officials and by verbally linking the firing to the ongoing probe, Trump has added a dangerous new dimension to the investigation.
The latest Flynn reports suggest a tie between the retired general’s short-lived NSA duties and his preceding role in the pay of a Turkish-owned company based in the Netherlands.
Former Obama officials tell CNN they wanted during the transition for Trump & Co. to approve a Pentagon plan to retake an Islamic State stronghold by supporting Syrian Kurds.
Flynn reportedly rejected it. For its own reasons, the Turkish government did not want the Kurdish forces armed. But doing so seems to have become the Trump policy after Flynn left.
On Monday, the ousted NSA chief sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee laying out his case to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and his refusal to produce documents subpoenaed by Congress.
Had Flynn not gone from the campaign to the White House, Trump might be more insulated from problems.
The same might be said if Comey had been fired as soon as Trump took office.