Panelists on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" agreed that special counsel Robert Mueller was conducting a strategically brilliant game of chess against President Donald Trump, the target of his investigation -- who wasn't even playing the same game.
The special counsel has reportedly been cooperating with New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, which could ensnare former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a pardon-proof trap, because presidential pardons don't cover state crimes.
"Paul Manafort is clearly becoming very much in the crosshairs of this probe, both with his own dealings with foreign governments, his time working a pro-Russian party in the Ukraine, but also now, as suggested, the idea that he could be leaned upon here," said Jonathan Lemire, White House correspondent for the Associated Press. "This is going to happen in a state jurisdiction, (so) the president can't pardon you."
He said the president's unusual pardon last week of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio signaled that he was willing to flout conventions for issuing pardons, but the involvement of Schneiderman -- who has a long history with Trump -- took away that powerful option.
Trump pardons Arpaio and Mueller hits -- it's like they're paying chess," said BBC anchor Katty Kay, "and it's check again. Mueller hits back, okay, we'll go to the state level and this is where you can't pardon them. The way that Mueller is handling this is strategically brilliant. He's keeping the investigation going but he's giving signals to Trump he's not going to be messed with."
Historian Jon Meacham, executive editor at Random House and contributing editor for Time, said Trump was vastly outmatched against Mueller.
"I think Mueller is playing chess and Trump is playing Donkey Kong," Meacham said.
Host Joe Scarborough agreed, and cited a months-old tweet that still made him laugh.
"Mueller's playing three-dimensional chess and Trump is playing four-dimensional Hungry Hungry Hippo," Scarborough said.