While President Trump cavorts in Asia, his legal problems at home continue to mount. The indictment of three aides, his record-low poll numbers and a wave of Republican defeats in state and local elections compound the threat to his aides, his family and himself by limiting his options. When he returns November 18, he will find himself more vulnerable than ever.
Is Trump trapped? Let’s just say the president’s defenses have a way of backfiring.
Last May, Trump fired FBI director James Comey in an effort to get rid of “this Russia thing.” The result was the appointment of special prosecutor Robert Mueller who indicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates. According to NBC News, Mueller has also amassed enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security adviser.
Trump claimed allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia were “fake news.” Then came the indictment of George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy aide who says he spoke to a Russian about getting “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
‘Risk of a Coup’
“We are at risk of a coup d’état in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly elected president of the United States,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a Capitol Hill speech Wednesday, according to The Hill. “That is precisely what is happening right now with the indisputable conflicts of interest that are present with Mr. Mueller and others at the Department of Justice.”
Along with Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Gaetz co-sponsored a resolution last week that questions Mueller’s neutrality. Capitol Hill Republicans claim the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation is compromised because Mueller was the head of the FBI when the Obama administration approved the sale of the Uranium One mining firm to the Russian atomic energy agency.
The Uranium One story, it must be said, has replaced “Benghazi” as the conservative conspiracy theory du jour for a good reason: The Uranium One story does have the whiff of Clintonian corruption.
People associated with Uranium One donated an astonishing $145 million to the Clinton Foundation, mostly before and during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, according to the Washington Post. In addition, Bill Clinton received $500,000 from a Russian bank to give a speech at a conference in Moscow in 2011.
What the Uranium One story doesn’t have is any evidence of wrongdoing or bias or conflict of interest by Robert Mueller. The Treasury Department was the lead agency that headed the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which approved the investment, according to CNN.
There is no evidence that the Uranium One sale violated any laws or harmed the United States.
Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has been urging Trump to take the fight to Mueller, and the Uranium One story appears to be the chosen presidential cudgel.
Over the summer, Trump talked about firing Mueller and was talking out of it by aides who feared a political firestorm. The Uranium One story, suddenly revived by Sean Hannity and other right-wing talking heads in the days before Manafort’s indictment, creates a pretext that was lacking before.
Firing Mueller, however, is unlikely to solve Trump’s problem any more than “fake news” allegations or Comey’s dismissal did.
The prosecution of Manafort and Gates (and possibly Flynn) will proceed, unless Trump pardons them, which he has talked about doing. A combination of firing Mueller and pardoning the defendants will invite Senate legislation, already introduced, to reinstate Mueller. It would also likely provoke a legal challenge from constitutional lawyers arguing that the president cannot use his pardoning power to obstruct justice.
And even the dismissal of Mueller with pardons would not solve Trump’s problem. The special prosecutor is already coordinating his investigation of Manafort with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The Trump entourage may also face charges in New York state court. The president cannot fire a state official or issue pardons to people accused or convicted of state crimes.
Accusing Mueller of a “coup” and firing him might rally Trump’s loyal though shrinking base, but it would alienate and demoralize congressional Republicans he needs to pass a tax cut. Those Republicans are already worried about Tuesday’s election results and fear a “blue wave” is coming in the 2018 midterm elections.
Firing Mueller would encourage and energize Democrats, such as Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), to pursue a bill of impeachment against Trump. “He would be impeached the next day,” said one former federal prosecutor.
Green wants to force a vote by Christmas, and Trump just might give him his Christmas wish. With jail time looming for his family and friends, Trump may prefer to invite impeachment proceedings rather than let the law take its course.