The release of Bob Woodward’s book Fear, about the state of Trump’s White House, and the nearly simultaneous publication in the New York Times of an anonymous op-ed piece telling much the same story from inside the Cabinet, make it clear that the end is approaching.
These stories of White House chaos come just as three currents of history are about to crash together. Mueller’s investigation, the November elections, and Trump’s impatience are headed for a three-way pileup that could see the Pence family decorating the White House Christmas tree this year.
The pivot point for the scandal is November 8th, the first business day after the election. The chaos, corruption, and buffoonery of Trump’s first two years make Democratic control of the House next year likely, and even control of the Senate now seems like a possibility. With a Democratic majority in the House, the tide will truly change against the Republicans and the President. Investigations can’t be strangled and impeachment becomes a serious option. At that point, the Republicans will have less than two months to salvage what they can.
Out of what now seems an almost quaint and courtly respect for the norms of democratic government, Robert Mueller seems to have decided not to release any more indictment bombshells before November 8th, but you can bet he’s got plenty ready.
Balancing Mueller’s gentlemanly reticence, Lindsay Graham has given Trump the green light to fire Jeff Sessions at anytime after that same date, which would clear the way for the firing of Robert Mueller. November 8th is a compromise. Graham is no Trump fan, but the Republican leadership knows that Trump will fire Sessions sooner or later and that it will be a disaster when he does but firing him before the election would throw even more seats to the the Democrats. If they can make it through November with an intact majority, they have two years for the dust it will raise to settle. They still have a slender chance of holding onto the majority that they need to stave off apocalypse, so they’ve prevailed upon him to hold off just a little longer and no doubt pray nightly that Fox and Friends don’t shoot off their mouths in any unfortunate way.
But the Republicans are unlikely to retain a House majority even in the best scenario, and the upshot is a tight window for the eve of destruction. After the 8th, with Sessions in jeopardy, whatever Mueller has, he must use it or lose it.
Meanwhile, Mueller has been glad to let the media talk on and on about collusion, but collusion is just one thread of his investigation. Mueller’s investigation, together with the coordinated investigations of the Southern District of New York, the Manhattan DA, prosecutions in DC and Virginia, and possibly the IRS have also been going after Trump Inc and Trump’s associates hammer and tongs. If these people are any kind of investigators at all, the will surely come up with enough to indict anyone and everyone in the top leadership of that notoriously corrupt organization.
Behind the gaudy facade of Trump Inc, it works almost like a mom-and-pop-shop. It was always just the boss giving orders. There are no compliance officers or firewalls, nobody who’s job it is to split legal hairs and set up layers and layers of indirection between the boss and the dirty deeds. Trump himself talks directly to guys doing payoffs and threatening people. He and his top people deal with corrupt officials, businesses, and terrorist organizations personally, one on one, just like they were doing a real estate deal with Joe Blow from Queens. Getting felony indictments against people like that will be like taking candy from a baby for people who normally go after enterprises like Deutsche Bank, the mob, and the drug cartels.
There are no firm lines in the Trump organization; Donald Trump, the campaign, Trump Inc, and relationships with hangers on and family all blur together. Nobody engineered the campaign, or for that matter, the last twenty years of Trump’s business, to withstand this kind of investigative full court press. Why would they have? There was never supposed to be a Robert Mueller; it was a promotional stunt for Trump’s reality shows; nobody thought he’d win, even as the voting was in progress.
The scandals that have been in the newspapers already hint at an embarrassment of riches: FCPA violations, money laundering, several kinds of fraud, felonious campaign funding shenanigans, conspiracy, lying to the FBI, and a host of other conventional crimes, to say nothing of the more serious matters relating to ongoing post-inauguration collusion with the Russians. It’s got to be like Christmas morning for the prosecutors.
Whatever the details, sometime after the 8th of November, it will implode like a collapsing star. Once the election is past, nothing will stop Trump from firing Jeff Sessions, and thereby blatantly obstructing the investigation. Mueller will be highly incentivized to announce as many indictments and plea deals with people in the president’s inner circle as possible: his kids, Roger Stone, Allen Weisselberg and even of the company itself. The more indictments, the harder it becomes to shut down the investigation on the grounds that it’s over and found nothing.
Mueller may not be able to indict the president, but that wasn’t ever really his job. Indicting anyone at all is well below his pay grade. Mueller’s job is to discover the truth about Trump’s collusion with Russia. That’s all. The rest is either a means to an end or an unavoidable by-product.
Every one of the inner circle who get indicted will face lengthy prison terms if they don’t spill the beans. They’re not the Gambino crime family—none of them are built for doing hard time. With plea deals attesting to his guilt from everyone Trump has worked closely with for the last few years, impeachment would be gruesome process for the Republican party, regardless of whether the Senate convicts him. Once that can of worms is open, god only knows what kinds of horrible stuff will crawl out. Lest we forget, Nunes, Sessions, and others committed numerous shady acts in promoting or defending Trump. Numerous Republican luminaries lied under oath or will turn out to have had guilty knowledge long before it came to impeachment. Under a Democrat-led investigation, that’s all going to come out.
The Republicans simply can’t allow that grotesque spectacle; it would destroy the party for a generation. Even the members of the leadership who aren’t dirty will be exposed for having known what was going on and done nothing. So here again, the awful date November 8th enters into the picture. It starts the clock on seven weeks left for damage control.
There’s no incentive for Trump to leave quietly—he’ll be powerless and surrounded by enemies the moment he leaves office, but as long as he remains, he’ll feel he has a chance, even a shot at four more years.
And that’s why we’re hearing the phrase “25th Amendment” so much from the Right. You’d think it would be unsay-able, but it’s the only stick big enough to threaten Trump with on that inevitable day. He’ll be offered the choice of resigning for “health reasons” or being removed as a senile old fool who’s become a danger to the Republic.
The threat of removal has to be credible. That’s what all the public “25th Amendment” talk is about. With perhaps nine tenths of Americas having no idea what the 25th Amendment is, they’ll say it over and over to make sure that it is “a thing” in the public mind in case worse comes to worse and they have to pull the trigger. My guess is they won’t have to. Trump’s ego won’t let him risk being forced out for senility. He’ll go out defiant, having pardoned himself and his family, muttering darkly about violence in the streets and the base rising up. They won’t. Even the base has it’s limits and when all is said and done, nobody loves a loser. Deep down, they know he’s not their friend.
The Republicans will have one more daring option in November. They may assess that the destruction is as bad as it can get, that every voter with half a brain has decamped, and those that are left never will. If they still have the Senate, in that scenario, there is little to be lost by letting Trump stay and shifting the onus of expelling him onto the Democrats, who will be forced to impeach him without a conviction, and then live with the radioactive debris for two more years.
But one way or the other, it’s got to come to a head before the New Year.