Post-midterm election, President Donald Trump’s tenure seems rockier than ever. Consider:
▪ His much-criticized deployment of troops to handle the nonexistent border crisis proved to be as unnecessary and politically motivated as critics claimed. With the election behind him, Trump is now drawing down the troops.
▪ His relationship with the military hasn’t been helped by his conduct in France, or his weird decision to pick a fight with a national hero - retired Adm. William H. McRaven.
▪ His defense of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been roundly criticized, and will be challenged by a bipartisan coalition in Congress.
▪ His attack on the press was thwarted by CNN and other media companies; the White House retreated and reissued Jim Acosta’s permanent press pass.
▪ Ivanka Trump seems to have her own email scandal. The Washington Post reports: “Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence. . . .The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign.”
▪ Trump’s appointment of acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker has drawn bipartisan criticism and a lawsuit.
All this occurs before the Democrats take control of the House and before they can start issuing subpoenas or holding hearings. When that happens, things will get really dicey for Trump as his personal finances come under scrutiny.
All of this should surprise no one. A president entirely unfit for his office (temperamentally, intellectually, and in every other imaginable way) - who has cycled through advisers and banished independent voices - gets worse with time. The facade of functionality at the White House started crumbling some time ago: Mistakes and bad hires (including his daughter and son-in-law) have caught up with him over time; the quality of each new addition to the administration is nearly certain to be worse than the person being replaced, while qualified and ethical public servants want no part of this train wreck.
Moreover, we’ve yet to see the results of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which very likely will lay out the elements of an obstruction of justice charge. James A. Baker, a former general counsel of the FBI, and Lawfare author Sarah Grant take us through the recently released Watergate roadmap, with obvious parallels to the current administration:
“As a result, the road map’s references to President [Richard M.] Nixon’s interactions with [then assistant attorney general Henry E.] Petersen - the person who was heading the investigation - take on a different and more nefarious meaning. Those interactions must be understood within the larger context of the president’s knowledge of the facts regarding Watergate at the time that he was in contact with Petersen. In other words, when the president sought information from Petersen, provided his views to Petersen on the various matters that they discussed, and discussed Petersen’s future, he was not merely exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution to supervise the executive branch and trying to get the facts necessary to do so; the president of the United States was also acting as a criminal co-conspirator trying to obstruct lawful investigative activities of the Justice Department.”
Nixon was forced to leave office to escape impeachment, and was later pardoned. But the episode now serves as a roadmap to legal and political disaster for Trump.
In sum, Trump’s presidency is in a downward spiral. He is likely to react more irrationally and unpredictably as the crises pile up. In other words, the first two years likely will be looked upon as the glory days of the Trump presidency.