Donald Trump is a lame duck. His decisions in the final weeks of his presidency will be driven by delusion, self-enrichment, and trying to handicap Joe Biden so Trump won't be shamed by comparison. He could wreak untold damage on America unless he's finally checked by Congress.
In the past his advisers stopped him from making misguided decisions, but not anymore. After the election he replaced top Pentagon officials with sycophants. He fired Homeland Security Director Chris Krebs and Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet. Those firings could foretell more unchecked decisions with disastrous consequences.
A disturbing pro-Russian pattern in Trump's decisions suggest the worst is yet to come. His continued alignment with Russian interests must be viewed in light of his decade-long dependency on Russia for financial survival after numerous bankruptcies. "Russians make up a … disproportionate cross-section of … our assets," said, Donald Trump Jr. Eric Trump bragged, "We don't rely on American banks; we have all the funding we need out of Russia."
Trump's financial records show he owes $421 million that comes due over the next four years with the questionable ability to repay it. Some estimates have it at $1.1B and put Trump's net worth at a fraction of what he claims. U.S. banks stopped lending to him in the mid-2000, so he'll need help from somewhere else. Russia is a likely go-to source.
It's therefore not irrational to worry that Trump may have cut a deal with Vladimir Putin. It could look something like this: Trump weakens NATO's defenses against Russian aggression. In return Putin continues to keep Trump afloat financially and wouldn't spill the beans about Trump laundering Russian money through his golf courses and condo sales, Trump's links to Russian organized crime, or his pursuit of Russian election help. Trump reciprocates by pardoning Russians indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The plot thickens: Trump's withdrawal of troops throughout Europe including 12,000 troops from Germany, which Republicans and Democrats in Congress are trying to block, will degrade NATO'sdefenses. The downsizing is scheduled to occur before Biden takes office, complicating his plans for rebuilding America's commitment to NATO.
Trump terminated the Open Skies treaty which provided for U.S. and European reconnaissance flights to surveil Russian military activity along Europe's border, and banned Russian missiles capable of reaching Europe in minutes. Trump wants to liquidate the specialized aircraft that conducted the flights, which will make it harder for Biden to reinstate the surveillance.
A Putin deal wouldn't be the first time Trump put personal gain ahead of U.S. security interests, over objections from the U.S. military and both parties. Trump and Ivanka took payoffs from China after Trump lifted a bipartisan ban on sales to Chinese tech company ZTE. Trump sold $8.4 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia after boasting that the Saudis spend millions on his businesses.
Trump's troop withdrawal from Syria was carried out against bipartisan and military outrage. It pushed Turkey to partner with Putin in forcing the Kurds from Syria. Turkey is NATO's most important military deterrent to Russian aggression. Its partnership with Putin strained Turkey's commitment to NATO, and creates concern over whether Turkey would deploy troops to resist a Russian incursion into NATO territory. Three lawsuits allege Trump's businesses in Turkey influenced his foreign policy. His business interests there include Trump Towers in Istanbul.
Russia has been targeting its neighbors Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – all NATO members -- ever since it lost control of them when the Soviet Union collapsed. If Putin were to exploit the opportunity Trump handed him, those three Baltic nations would be in Russia's crosshairs.
It seems unimaginable that any American president would facilitate or that Congress would tolerate a Russian incursion into NATO. But in Trump's case it's not so far-fetched, given his history of compromising American interests for his own enrichment, his incessant devotion to Putin, his disregard for American security interests (he doesn't read daily briefings), his conviction he can get away with anything, and the complicity of Trump's Republican subjects in Congress.
It may seem improbable that Putin would venture militarily into NATO territory before Biden takes office. But it's worth noting Russian forces are ready to do so. They could reach the outskirts of Estonia and Latvia in 30 to 60 hours, according to the Rand Corporation.
Russia currently has a large military force along Europe's Eastern border and a history of invading or controlling nearby sovereign nations such as Georgia, Crimea, and the Ukraine. Putin knows Biden would probably follow Obama's example of acquiescing to Russian aggression, and that Estonia's and Latvia's large ethnic Russian minorities would be welcoming.
Trump has made his commitment to defending Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania conditional on them "paying their fair share" – a point on which Trump still seems unsatisfied.
Putin has the motive, means and the inclination. Given the opportunity it's not unthinkable that he'd make the move. If he does, Biden would face the dilemma of what to do about Russia's presence in NATO territory.
Trump has piled a hundred last straws on the backs of Congressional Republicans, but their backs haven't broken yet. If Russian troops entered NATO territory, that could be the straw that finally breaks their loyalty to him.
Congressional Republicans should fear Trump's threat to America's national interest more than his political clout. Many among the 74 million who voted for Trump voted for the party and its conservative policies -- not for the man. Others bought into Republican propaganda warning that Biden would institute socialism and questioning his mental acuity. They settled for Trump. But they aren't cultists with blind allegiance who will adhere to Trump after he's lost his presidential powers.
There's more to worry about. Congressional Republicans and Trump's inner circle are concerned that Trump is delusional with no grip on reality. They note he regularly stumbles, slurs, gets confused, has trouble synthesizing information and exhibits signs of dementia.
Psychologist John Gartner believes Trump suffers from "malignant narcissism," a diagnosis which combines paranoia, sociopathy, and sadism --"the closest thing psychiatry has to a true human monster." More than 800 mental-health professionals warned, "failing to…understand the psychological aspects" of humiliating Trump "could lead to catastrophic outcomes." Now that he's been humiliated there's no telling what he's capable of.
Both Gartner and Trump's Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove Trump. Maybe it's time to follow their advice before he scorches the earth behind him.
*Neil Baron is an attorney who has represented many institutions involved in the international markets and advised various parts of the federal government on economic issues.