As we approach the end of a tumultuous 2017, let me offer my wish that each of you have a joyous holiday season and that 2018 brings you all the best. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a fine Festivus!
While I sincerely hope that all of us have a wonderful 2018 in our own ways, I am concerned that as a country we will hit turbulent waters at best or worse, experience a Constitutional crisis. I gave up prognosticating some years ago. However, since it is the end of the year, I will offer up my scenario as to how the coming year will unfold as the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller plays out. There are certainly other very important events to come in 2018 that the administration will face, such as dealing with a bellicose North Korea, implementing a tax cut by expanding the deficit, undermining the Affordable Care Act, retooling immigration and someday passing a budget. All of these will be overshadowed by the unfolding drama surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation and its final results. It will not be pretty.
Lest we forget, as I see it there are four distinct areas of investigation for the Special Counsel. Three have been his focus from the beginning and the fourth I surmise got added as the investigation looked into the activities of Mr. Paul Manafort and others and the resulting relationship to the original three areas of interest. The four are concerns over Russian interference in the election, possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians, whether or not the FBI investigation into these matters was obstructed by the president or his advisers, and my fourth, money laundering and/or tax evasion by the president and/or family. Let’s look at them one by one.
Many of us forget that the original intent of the investigation, starting with the FBI and CIA in 2016, was to determine the extent, methods, and impact of Russian interference in that year’s election. The combined intelligence community in the United States and elsewhere concluded some time ago that the Russians did interfere. End of discussion. The questions of how, why, whether it mattered or not and what to do stop it in the future remain unanswered. Reportedly, the president refuses to discuss it with his top advisers, has yet to hold any cabinet level discussions as to how to protect future elections and continues to deny that it ever happened. This is unconscionable. Regardless of one’s political views, all of us should be upset that there is overwhelming evidence that it occurred and there is no evidence that anyone is doing anything substantive to prevent it in the future. There is still no federal coordinated action to stop it from happening again. As Americans we should be appalled. Michael V. Hayden had a lifetime of experience in the intelligence community and was CIA director under President George W. Bush. His view of the Russian meddling? That it is the political equivalent of the attack on September 11. He further said,
“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. He has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”
Perhaps some in Congress will wake up to the fact that action is needed, and soon. I won’t hold my breath for the president to initiate any action. When Mr. Mueller’s findings come forward, we may have an impetus for action by the rest of the government.
The second area of investigation, and the one most focus on including the president, is whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election and impede Secretary Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory. This one is more complicated and takes more than a sound bite or Twitter statement to unfold. In short, the theory is that in exchange for “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton and other “aids” during the election, the new administration, if they won, would lift sanctions on Russia imposed for a variety of reasons generated by Russian bad actors, and not just during the election. This one is less clear as to the extent that the campaign organization knew what they were doing. Their best defense, if one can call it that, is that they were incompetent. That line of reasoning is becoming less tenable as more and more instances of meetings between campaign representatives and Russian representatives become known. In addition, both campaigns were briefed in August 2016, following the official nominations, that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election, that other bad actors might also try, and the two campaigns need to notify the FBI if they detect any Russian overtures or other activity. The Trump campaign made no such reports to the FBI. It is hard to claim ignorance under those circumstances.
The third area of investigation involves possible obstruction of justice. This stems in one way from the aforementioned meetings with Russian operatives during the campaign. Various campaign officials initially denied any such meetings. It grew bigger after the president fired then FBI Director Jim Comey and bragged in a Lester Holt interview on NBC and later in a private conversation with the Russian (!) Foreign Minister and Ambassador that it was over the “Russia thing.” Director Comey testified under oath that the president asked him to drop the investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians. (The same Michael Flynn that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those very interactions.) As if that is not enough, the investigation also includes the president himself pushing prevarications on Air Force One concerning his son Donald Trump Jr. and his interactions with the Russians. They made a very weak attempt to cover it up, allegedly at the president’s direct involvement in the cover up story.
You can’t tell the players without a program.
Not on the “official” list but the area that will cause the biggest consternation, and at the same time pull everything together, is my notion that the Special Counsel and his office are looking into the Trump Organization’s and family’s financial dealings. I think that they will find instances of money laundering and tax evasion. Very much like what they come up with concerning Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates — only with Russians rather than corrupt Ukrainians.
Many focus on Mr. Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and his subsequent attempts at creating new business opportunities in Russia. Lost to some is the knowledge that he started visiting Russia in 1987 and has made trips off and on since then. If his son is to be believed, lots of their investment money came from Russian sources. U.S. banks would not underwrite his endeavors after four bankruptcies and he was desperate. Think of it as a “Godfather” scenario. “Donnie, don’t worry. We’ll take care of the problem. Relax. But at some time in the future we may come and ask you for a favor.” Or as Don Corleone says it much better in the original, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”
My opinion as to the results?
- The Russians interfered in many, many ways in the election but the number of votes that changed because of those actions (none of which were by actual vote tampering) is unknown.
- Aides to Mr. Trump did collude with the Russians but the president will benefit from plausible deniability as there will be no way to tie it directly to him.
- The investigation will conclude that Mr. Trump and some of his aides did try to obstruct justice by interfering in the attempt to investigate his family and campaign ties to the Russians.
- The Special Counsel will conclude that prior to becoming president, Mr. Trump knowingly engaged in unethical and illegal financial transactions. These transactions helped Russian oligarchs launder money in Trump investments and real estate purchases. His hundreds of LLCs and shell corporations were used to hide these transactions and to limit the taxes he was by law responsible for paying.
That’s when the “fun” starts.
First, prior to the Special Counsel’s findings, the House committees investigating these matters will rush out findings — possibly in early January — that will find that there is no evidence of collusion, they did not look at obstruction of justice because it is a criminal matter, and did not investigate his finances. They will say that the Russians interfered in the election but it is unclear to what extent and in any case, the interference did not change the election.
The president will seize on this report, claim that it proves his innocence and that there was “no collusion!”
The president will try to fire Special Counsel Mueller because, he will reason, the House committees already proved that there was “no collusion!” and so there is no need for the investigation to continue. To do so would make it a “witch hunt” based on the Democrats efforts to push a “hoax” and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Trump voters because of a deep hatred of Mr. Trump. Fox News and some House Republicans will cry long and loud that this is an attempted FBI “coup” to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States. (By the way, this has already happened in the last 48 hours. The attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice from certain Republican Members of Congress are despicable. Please note that they are not attacking the facts, the results so far or any other substantive issue. They only attack the people and the institution with the goal to sow doubt in advance of just this scenario.)
The Senate will try to protect the Special Counsel but at the same time expand their investigation to include the other nominees — Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton — to show that it wasn’t just Mr. Trump. When the Special Counsel’s findings start to leak out, the Senate, caught in a bind as to how to act as the president continues to undermine, ignore and invalidate the non-partisan results, delays action.
The Special Counsel will name Mr. Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator.
Mr. Trump will not step down from the presidency and tries to pardon those indicted as well as himself. This will lead to a Constitutional crisis.
The “#metoo” movement continues to build pressure against Mr. Trump as more allegations of harassment by multiple women come out and he calls them all “liars.”
To make sure that justice prevails, state prosecutors step in to bring state charges — especially on money and tax issues. Mr. Trump cannot pardon violations of state law, only federal.
The issue of pardons for whom and for what gets challenged in court and follows an expedited path to the Supreme Court.
Pressure will build for the Congress to act. However, the House and Senate will not act to impeach the president and will cite the upcoming 2018 elections as the reason. “Let the American people decide.”
Democrats win big in the elections. While campaigning they will not use the word “impeach” but will insist that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions with Congressional oversight.
Mr. Trump, Fox News, and some House Republicans continue to cry that the system was rigged and that an attempted “coup” is underway. Mr. Trump embarks on a series of campaign rallies to build support among the minority of voters that still support him. Angry demonstrations ensue.
Most Americans are appalled at the complete story and the fact that Mr. Trump will not step down plus the fact that he is trying to pardon the wrong doers — especially close family members. The Democratic landslide is a result of voters being fed up because Congress will not act.
Very bitter disputes break out in violence on both sides of the issue as Mr. Trump continues purposely to stir up animosity and anger.
There is very little energy left to try to tackle the big issues facing our nation. American influence in the world continues to wane and other nations take advantage of our inward rage and lack of attention to international affairs. The Russians continue to meddle in western European elections and to support Syria and Iran. China consolidates its economic power and pulls other Asian nations closer to its orbit as they become the de facto leader of the region under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
2018 ends without resolution of the Constitutional issues surrounding Mr. Trump and his associates’ actions. Trials begin for Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Kushner and others close to the president.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!