Mueller and Trump On Collision Course. How Does It All End?

This article first appeared on Dorf on Law.

Sometimes it appears that the end of the Trump administration nightmare is at hand, subject to a one-two punch from the Special Counsel and then the electorate in the midterm elections.

To mix sporting metaphors, in some articles it almost seems like a gimme, a golf shot that everyone agrees you don’t even have to take because it’s so easy.  

The gimme is not to be confused with the infinite series of mulligans (shot do-overs) that evangelicals grinningly confess to providing Trump with as they overlook his disgusting and nasty personal behavior.

I don’t think it’s a gimme, but there are some interesting twists in the ways this could play out.

The first part of the one-two punch, literally just around the corner, is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s obvious -to-even-a-six-year-old-finding that Trump has indeed obstructed justice.

This might even be served up with a fresh side of perjury (if Trump does end up testifying in person, is worked into a lather, and displays his usual verbal incontinence).

These findings officially get presented to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, with recused Attorney General Jeff Sessions still pouting and hiding in his bedroom.  

Yes, Jeff could defiantly declare his recusal is now all over, reject the findings, and dare Congress to do something.  However, it seems more likely he will stay in his room, peeking through the crack of the slightly ajar door, since after all his own behavior is a bit tangled up in the story.  

It is also possible that Trump finally implements his good friend Roger Stone’s long-preferred scenario, and fires Mueller (and Rosenstein) before he makes any official findings, in a repeat of the Watergate Saturday night massacre.  

GettyImages-872718676 Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty

Yet some Republicans who had previously sponsored bills to make it more difficult to dismiss Mueller say they believe his firing is less likely now, even while others have expressed renewed interest.  

Regardless, it seems even riskier to fire him now as it would take place in the late stages of an investigation that has already resulted in two guilty pleas and other indictments.

Public pressure builds, Mueller’s findings go to Congress, and the pungent odor of impeachment is in the air, blowing in from both Coasts. But any impeachment hearings would have to start in the Forever Trump House of Representatives, where there is no evidence of a scintilla of interest from the majority party.

Two ways to spice up the Punch

Hence the second part of the one-two punch, the impending Democratic wave in 2018, to instill abject electoral fear in House Republicans. Maybe, but I’ve seen no sign that this has had any effect on the extremism of the positions of the House of Representatives or Speaker Paul Ryan in tax bill or immigration discussions.  

What else might Mueller do to catalyze a reaction from the House? Perhaps he will persuade a grand jury to indict Trump.  

The indictment of a sitting President is unprecedented, we are repeatedly told, and there is scholarly disagreement as to whether it would be legal or enforceable. Nonetheless, such an action would emphasize the gravity of the findings, at least in the Special Counsel’s view, and make it more difficult for the Congress to brush aside the question of impeachment without some serious hearings.

But there’s more. Curiously, the current focus on obstruction of justice in the press often seems to gloss over the issue of motivation, and the extent of Trump’s Russophilia—during the campaign and very early in his Presidency, why would Trump go to such unseemly lengths to fawn over Putin and his minions and later pal up with the Russians ?  

Why would Donald Jr, Sessions, and others have been so willing and interested to meet with the Russians during the campaign in the first place?

As many have noted, most notably the (politically) late, great Steve Bannon, the Trump Organization and Kushner enterprises have longstanding ties with Russian mafiosi and spurious bank loans that seem to have kept the former afloat when no when else would.  

Other reporting has revealed their linkages to dubious projects with even more dubious partners in Azerbaijan and elsewhere. Mueller has a stack of fraud, foreign bribery, and money-laundering legal experts on his team, who may be looking at more than just Paul Manafort’s steamy activities.

This raises another possibility: what if, alongside his obstruction of justice (and perhaps perjury) findings, Mueller presents clear evidence that the Trump Organization is itself intimately linked to money laundering, along with additional indictments?  

This would explain the increasingly desperate attempts of “the President with great genes ” to prevent investigation of any of his business connections with Russia, and remove the whole affair from the ethereal world of partisan political battles. I think these would be tough for even the House to shrug aside.

Then What?

With the embattled Trump noisily tweeting out the door after his lawyers strike a deal to avoid charges for his son, daughter and son-in-law (we can surely count on Pence pardoning Trump himself), that still leaves the entirety of his thoroughly kleptocratic cabinet and disastrous policies in place.  

President Pence, in the interests of “stability” and “continuity,” would be likely to continue full steam ahead.

By all appearances, that would suit the Republican Congress just fine. There is some question as to whether, when push comes to shove, the Democrats will be similarly content to stop there. I’m afraid they will be, to demonstrate “their good faith.”  

Trump and his backers have brilliantly succeeded in making it seem like everything that happens in Washington is because of him.  This means, paradoxically, that once he’s gone, there’s no one else for the Democrats to attack. Ding-dong, the Witch is Dead!  

Yet one of the most potent electoral themes of both candidates Trump and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election was that the system is rigged.  

There is a particularly tawdry example of the bipartisan nature of this corruption that still makes us all collectively wince, from whatever side of the political spectrum. That of course, was when the Clintons attended Donald and Melania’s wedding in 2005 in Mar-a-Lago.  

Perhaps it had nothing to do with Trump’s donations to Hillary’s various campaigns on four different occasions, or to his $100,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation.

Perhaps in reality Hillary went, in her own words, because

I happened to be planning to be in Florida and I thought it would be fun to go to his wedding because it is always entertaining.  

I have to admit I found candidate Trump’s explanation more convincing, if over the top in being patronizing.

Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding, and she came to my wedding. She had no choice because I gave to a foundation.

Why Bill came only to the reception we may never know.  

We know that Trump’s message quickly and predictably evolved from condemning “the system” to condemning “the deep state” and “the media,” and he long stopped mentioning the influence of money and big donors.  

But only recently congressional Republicans forlornly admitted that the fear of alienating donors to their own campaigns literally served as the prime motive force behind the regressive tax bill.    

And where are the Democrats?

It was laudable that the Senate Democrats stayed united in opposition to the tax bill, and made many trenchant criticisms of individual items. However, I don’t recall the Democratic leadership providing a clear explanation as to why the bill was the way it is.   

As if the origin of all regressive policies that the Trump Administration puts forward emerge, fully formed, from Trump’s hyperactive twitter brain, rather than from the political donor system, where money is speech. Yet the goodies packed surreptitiously into the tax bill are the quintessential example of a rotten system.

The Forces behind the Democrats

What if between now and November 2018 key Democratic donors—who, after all, are billionaires and large corporations too--decide that they are enjoying too much the corporate tax cuts, the exploding defense budget, and the disbanding of net neutrality? After all, one sees some “Never Trumpers” on the Republican side softening considerably, to the glee of Brietbart, by the end of last year.  

And some Democrats are already assisting attempts to water down requirements and regulatory obligations put in place after the banking crisis of 2008 under the Dodd-Frank legislation.

What if these donors fear that some of these gains—or perhaps the skyrocketing rise in the stock market alone--would be endangered by a significant turnover of the executive and legislative branches?

Given the essential corruption of the US system, it may not be the power of the vote or the identity of the majority political party that decides how intact President Pence can keep the Trumpean initiatives and program.  

It is sobering to consider the words of two strong female political reformers as they dismissed the hard fought battle for women’s suffrage in 1920:   

From Emma Goldman, the anarchist and feminist:  

Our modern fetish is universal suffrage…The women of Australia and New Zealand can vote, and help make the laws. Are the labor conditions better there?

From Helen Keller, the deaf-blind political activist:  

You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-elevenths to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?

I remain convinced it is crucial to vote, as a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. Yet there is ample evidence that major reforms in the US—whether social programs and labor protection in the 30s, or civil rights legislation in the 60s, didn’t happen on their own, despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress and the White House.  

They had to be pushed with tremendous political pressure applied by demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, even riots and other non-electoral means.   

To clean out the filthy Trumpean stables, and force reversals of some of his most regressive policies will almost certainly require much more than his physical evacuation from the White House.  

I am skeptical the Democrats will take these on, even if they end up in the majority in the Senate or the House, without feeling very strong popular pressure.

William P. Hausdorff works as a consultant in international public health, vaccine development and policy, and as a senior lecturer at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium.