Surprisingly, it snowed in Washington, but the temperature rose in the White House. So far, the array of investigations centering on president Donald Trump have been prologue. Now, Chapter One is starting to be written.
The president is alarmed. He Tweets in the middle of the night. “No collusion,” is his daily favorite phrase, with “witch hunt” a close second.
He claims that all alone, free of legal advisors, he has written replies to questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller about Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and that this ends the Mueller-Trump discourse. Nobody believes the president.
No lawyer would ever allow a client to freelance written answers to investigators. Moreover, the Mueller questions did not relate to what in time may be the central issue of impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives: Obstruction of justice.
Four distinct threats
As I have previously reported, there are multiple parallel sources of danger for Trump. Right now, he faces four distinct, yet overlapping threats to his political and business fortunes:
1. More indictments of former Trump friends by Special Counsel Mueller.
2. A series of high-profile court sentences of former Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to assorted crimes.
3. A host of investigations to be launched by various committees of the House of Representatives, now that the Democrats have the majority there.
4. The determination of New York State’s newly elected attorney-general, Letitia James, to go after Trump after she noted in her victory speech: “New Yorkers, we can spot a con man.”
Mueller takes aim
Washington is awash with rumors that Special Counsel Mueller, who has already issued over 30 indictments against individuals related to his investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, is about to bring charges against more Trump associates, including just possibly Donald Trump Jr.
Mueller has been investigating whether the Trump campaign was involved in the timing in late 2016 of the publication by Wikileaks of torrents of damaging e-mails from the Hilary Clinton campaign.
A central figure in the inquiry is Roger Stone, an old friend of Trump, and a former partner of Paul Manafort, the one-time 2016 Trump campaign manager, who now faces jail. James Corsi, an associate of Stone, has publicly stated that he expects to be indicted soon. Wikileaks is believed to have obtained the information from Russian hackers.
Related to this inquiry is the pursuit by Mueller of all the events that surrounded a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians said to have close Kremlin ties, involving Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, for the express purpose of securing damaging information on Hilary Clinton.
A volcano of bad publicity
Meanwhile, Trump cannot escape a volcano of bad publicity as his former key associates face judgement in the courts.
On December 12, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former top business lawyer will be sentenced after reaching an extensive plea agreement with prosecutors.
His prospects of going to prison will depend crucially on the amount of information he is now providing to prosecutors about the Trump business empire’s foreign dealings, as well as the hush money payments he made just before the election for Trump to cover up alleged affairs with two women.
On December 18, Michael Flynn, the former White House national security chief and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, will face court sentencing after having pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his various dealings with Russians in 2016.
And, then on February 9, Paul Manafort, who was found guilty by a jury on various charges of fraud and tax evasion, and who later pleaded guilty to other charges related to the election campaign, will also be sentenced.
Manafort’s deputy as campaign manager and his former business colleague, Rick Gates, is still cooperating with Mueller and his sentencing date has yet to be set. It seems likely that this may coincide with the conclusion of the Mueller investigation and the finalizing of a comprehensive report.
Attempts by the new acting U.S. attorney-general, Matt Whitaker, to stop the public release of the report would likely be challenged by prominent politicians in both houses of Congress and add to the sense of White House crisis.
Trump’s worst nightmare
Indeed, Congressional investigations may prove to be the worst of all of Trump’s impending nightmares. There are many targets and many members of Congress keen to take aim.
They will go after Whitaker himself, who seems to have been selected by Trump solely on the basis of his many previous public statements deriding the Mueller investigation and whose qualifications as America’s top law enforcer are questionable.
Plans are taking shape for a host of investigations led by the Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives, including: the alleged unethical conflict-of-interest activities of several of Trump’s cabinet members.
These include the secretaries of Interior, Commerce, Environment and possibly Treasury, and the business profits made by the firms that are still controlled by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, despite both of them being on the government’s payroll as White House advisors.
There is also the issue of expenses for security that the U.S. government has as Donald Trump Jr. travels the world promoting the Trump brand – his trip to India alone is said to have involved around $100,000 in taxpayer cash.
And, of course, there will be several House investigations, including public hearings, which explicitly relate to the alleged multiple connections between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russians, including Trump business dealings.
Letitia James enters the stage
Now, as the curtain goes up on the made-for-Broadway drama, “The Decline and Fall of Donald Trump,” so Letitia James enters the stage.
The first African-American woman to be New York state’s leading prosecutor declared as her election victory was announced: “We can spot a carnival barker. I will shine a light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing.”
It is just plain old good politics for Ms. James to secure as much publicity as she can by targeting Trump and her sights will be on the tax returns that the president refuses to make public, the international sources of funding that the Trump organization has tapped over the years, as well as alleged fraud by the Trump foundation.
All of these events combined will dominate Washington politics for months to come. As the facts emerge and as Trump’s troubles mount, so the number of Democratic Party politicians to announce plans to run for president in the 2020 elections will multiply — but that’s another story.