U.S. vs. Trump: The evidence mounts and mounts

The United States has entered constitutional crisis territory

Published February 22, 2019 6:30AM (EST)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Salon)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Salon)

This piece originally appeared on The Globalist.

The launching of an official impeachment investigation of the U.S. president by the House of Representatives now seems certain — only its timing remains an open issue.

The reason? There is now overwhelming evidence that President Trump has consistently sought to take full control of the U.S. Department of Justice — and the actions he has taken amount to the impeachable crime of obstruction of justice.

As mounting evidence of grand corruption implicates the president, he is more determined than ever to secure his reelection, even if this involves further acts to undermine the U.S. Constitution.

As things stand, owing to the utter complicity of the Republican Party, the president has taken de facto control of the U.S. Senate. He is also making a mockery of the concept that the Congress is a co-equal branch of the government.

In this context, Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, have emerged as his lead enablers.

As if that weren’t enough, President Trump and his crew are on a rampage through the halls of the U.S. government in search of personal gain and the protection of ill-gotten gains. The evidence is piling up with breathless rapidity.

Breathtaking reports

Today’s newspapers provide three stories which in more normal times would each lead to immediate investigations by the Congress and calls for the incumbent in the White House to be driven from power.

First, a report from the Oversight and Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives details how the Trump administration sought to sell highly sensitive nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia. This was done over the objections of the U.S. intelligence services.

The deal was being pushed at the start of Trump’s term in office by then national security advisor Michael Flynn who also had a financial interest in the U.S. company that was leading the sales effort. Flynn now faces sentencing for other crimes.

A possible Saudi nuclear power deal continues to be secretly discussed according to a The Washington Post report that notes an Oval Office meeting on this topic last week.

Second, former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has stated in a series of interviews that he informed leaders of the U.S. Congress in the spring of 2017 that the FBI had such overwhelming evidence that it had no choice other than to open a case into whether president Trump was a Russian agent.

This confirms earlier press reports and the fact that this was part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative mandate.

McCabe, the author of a new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, noted in a radio interview, for example, that in an Oval Office meeting that considered U.S. intelligence reports detailing North Korea’s missile programs, “the president kind of went off on a diatribe,” changed the subject to his belief that North Korea had not actually launched any missiles because Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that the U.S. intelligence assessment was wrong and that “it was all a hoax.”

Obstruction of justice

Third, The New York Times reported that president Trump requested acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to ensure that there be a change in the lead prosecutor investigating payments that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made directly before the election to secure the silence of two women that Trump had had affairs with.

Trump wanted a prosecutor on the case that he believed would be loyal to him. Trump failed. Cohen is about to start a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress about these matters.

Trump, according to the newspaper report which looked in-depth at Trump’s many efforts to curb investigations of his dealings, soured on Whitaker after he failed to intervene in the Cohen investigation.

Previously, Trump also constantly blasted then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigations and eventually moved to fire him. Never shy to opt for vengeful action, Trump also launched blistering attacks on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who will leave his post next month.

Lest anybody forget, within the U.S. Justice Department, Trump also fired FBI director James Comey and he ensured the firing of McCabe. The scale of top level Justice Department dismissals at the express request of the U.S. president is without precedent.

What national emergency?

Meanwhile, despite all the reports of corruption, secret dealings and obstruction of justice, the ever-pliable Senator McConnell stays silent. Whenever push comes to shove, he will stand by his man Trump.

To see how this works, look no further than McConnell’s public statements many weeks ago that it would be a mistake for the president to declare a national emergency to do an end-run around Congress to find cash to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

As soon as Trump did so anyway, McConnell announced his support for this action.

A core provision of the U.S. Constitution is that it grants Congress the power of the purse. The president’s action now, according to law suits filed in the last few days by Attorneys General from 16 states, challenges the “national emergency” declaration as unconstitutional.

Trump makes no secret of the fact that he believes his tough anti-immigration policy, which is symbolized by the building of the wall, is a winner with his far-right political base. And he knows that winning the next election may well be his path to escaping criminal indictments and jail.

Trump’s motives

There appear to be at least two motives, quite apart from ego, why Trump is so tirelessly seeking to obstruct justice and control the Justice Department, while going so early into full reelection campaigning mode.

First, a number of prominent Democratic members of Congress believe the president has deep, possible illegal, financial ties to Russian sources of finance that are key to the viability of his real estate businesses. At all costs, it seems, Trump is determined to try and block all investigations into his finances and those of his family.

And, second, Trump is desperate to cover up any political ties that he may have had with Russian officials during his 2016 election campaign.

As it happens, close associates selected by Trump — Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, both of whom await sentencing for crimes resulting from the Mueller investigations, as well as Trump and Manafort friend Roger Stone, who has now been indicated by the Special Counsel  —  all had extensive ties to Russian officials.

Court documents filed by Mueller, which have been heavily redacted, indicate that Russian assistance to the Trump campaign may have come in exchange for a pledge that when in office the president would recognize Russian interests in Ukraine and curb U.S. sanctions.

Much more news to come

As to next steps in this rapidly unfolding saga, look out for the following:

  • further statements by the Special Counsel at the court hearings on sentences for Flynn, Manafort and the latter’s former deputy Rick Gates;
  • the court case against Roger Stone’s alleged secret dealings with Wikileaks and Russian hackers of Hilary Clinton’s and her campaign’s computers;
  • testimony to Congress by Michael Cohen before he goes to prison next month;
  • a host of public hearings by various committees of the House of Representatives and investigations by them;
  • news from investigations by the New York state Attorney General into Trump’s finances and his charitable foundation;
  • court hearings on challenges to Trump’s “national emergency.”

And, of course, more sensational reports in the media – all of which come from sources across the Trump administration who, one has to assume, are aghast at the wilful and repeated abuses of public office by the president and numerous members of his cabinet.

This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together.  Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And sign up for our highlights email here.

By Frank Vogl

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