Trump’s personal attorney has pleaded guilty to eight charges. Trump’s campaign manager has been found guilty of eight charges and is preparing to face a second trial. Trump’s long-time accountant is cooperating with prosecutors. The White House attorney is on his way out the door after news that he “cooperated extensively” with the special counsel. And behind them all, Robert Mueller is quietly filing away the pages of a report that is likely to include not just charges that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian operatives and that Trump acted to obstruct the investigation, but also an unknown number of charges related to tax evasion and money-laundering. Department of Justice guidelines may keep Mueller from indicting Trump before the grand jury—maybe—but that won’t stop state attorneys general from testing Trump’s theories of presidential immunity, or prevent a fat report from landing back at the DOJ en route to the House of Representatives.
As the Washington Post reports, Trump’s closest allies are deeply, increasingly concerned that Trump has no strategy to deal with the storm that’s just over the horizon. Also, with Trump openly feuding with or firing everyone who tries to stand up to his erratic demands, his staff worries that he lacks the experts needed to slug it out either in court or in impeachment proceedings.
All of which may increase the chances that Trump does something ugly, something big, something soon. Something that could happen with Republican support, and possibly faster without it.
Despite Trump’s attempts to spin the results of polls, the only red wave approaching America is the one that’s leaving dead fish across the beaches of Florida. Should Democrats regain control of the House, it’s not a dead certainty that Trump will be impeached, but it’s absolutely true that a long list of Trump’s actions over the last two years will fall under immediate scrutiny. The docket of House investigations, still laughably focused on Hillary Clinton’s ten-year-old email server, will turn to Trump’s actions in office. And any potential crimes featured in Mueller’s final report will be given very serious consideration.
If Republicans stumble into November and, as expected, see the House roll over blue, it could be the signal to release the last pretenses of law and following procedure. Trump’s people are warning him that “Winter is coming,” but that warning might well be for democracy.
Trump’s advisers are attempting to fill holes in his legal staff, and hunting for people with the experience to push back a fire that’s raging closer on several fronts. But Trump’s penchant for filling every void with fawning sycophants hasn’t made that easy. Fully a third of the offices at the White House Counsel are already sitting empty, and that’s before McGahn departs. Three of the people immediately below McGahn have already gone for the exits.
Meanwhile, Trump is openly courting Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jefferson Sessions. Trump isn’t pulling any punches about the reason for this: Sessions recused himself over issues related to Russia and the campaign. That puts deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein in charge of the Russia investigation, and allows him to set the scope for the special counsel’s office. Rosenstein has already demonstrated that he’s willing to allow Mueller to pursue matters that surface in the course of his investigation—such as the bank fraud, tax evasion, and foreign lobbying charges against Paul Manafort.
Trump seriously cannot afford to have his own business dealings come under the same scrutiny. And with both Michael Cohen and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg chatting it up, the truth about Trump’s “billions” is unlikely to stay safely hidden on his tax forms.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has admitted that he and Trump have talked about the possibility of impeachment “a lot.” Under the executives-go-free theory of Trump and Giuliani, it’s their only actual concern. The “only thing that hangs out there,” according to Giuliani.
But Trump is not preparing. He’s not engaging in practice sessions for speaking with Mueller. He’s not beefing up legal expertise for dealing with Democratic investigations or impeachment proceedings. That scares many of his supporters.
“Winter is coming,” said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. “Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it’s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody’s prepared for war.”
But Trump may be doing more to prepare than it seems. First, Sarah Sanders is still standing up to deliver the “Democrats will lose” message. And with the help of a Supreme Court that has rolling back much of the Voting Rights Act, a Congress that refuses to take action to protect election integrity, and Russians still enjoying the afterglow of their last big success, they could just “find” the votes they need. If Republicans hold the House all bets, and constraints, are off.
But perhaps more importantly, if Democrats do take the House in November … they don’t actually take the House in November. Republican senators have been making it clear to Trump that they’ll gladly support the sacking of Jefferson Sessions if Trump will only wait until after election day. Trump could easily conduct a Tuesday night massacre as soon as the polls closed, one that sees Sessions gone, Rosenstein gone, Mueller gone. And it could be only the first step of two months of Killer Ducks at work, as Republicans on their way out do their best to ensure that Trump remains nailed in place.
Democrats could arrive in January to find there is no investigation. No special counsel. No report. And they could well find that there is a new Supreme Court justice, one who holds executive privilege as the highest law of the land. A House investigation conducted with a DOJ unwilling to support the appointment of a new special counsel and fighting at every stop to hold onto the evidence accumulated by Mueller’s team, would be … unpleasant, slow, and frustrating.
It’s a strategy that would almost certainly lead to impeachment proceedings. Only ... not right away. And playing for time might be Trump’s best bet. Because the longer he’s in, the longer the standards and the proceedings of democratic governance erode away.
Winter really is coming, and so is the fall election. So before the snow, and the votes, start to fly, help to make sure that Trump has to worry about that Blue Wave by contributing $3 to help win back the House. For just three bucks, Trump gets frostburn.