The entire nation is impatiently waiting for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian involvement in the 2016 election and any evidence of collusion by then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign. There are also numerous other state and federal investigations dogging President Trump and several Democratic-controlled U.S. House committees are gearing up for massive investigations that will vex him.
It is difficult to assess if the president fully understands the predicament he is facing. Perhaps last weekend’s erratic twitter storm from the White House indicates he is beginning to focus on his fate. Frankly, things aren’t looking too good for The Donald.
Mueller’s report could be a short summary or a huge tome covering collusion, obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy and more. We don’t know how much of the report U.S. Attorney General William Barr will release to Congress or the public. But it may not matter; some legal experts believe that Mueller’s investigation should not be Trump’s main concern. I totally agree – and here’s why.
The raid on the hotel room, office and home of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen was a seminal event that was conducted under the direction of federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. The Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for that district, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from this investigation.
Southern District prosecutors granted Trump organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg, immunity in the Cohen probe last August and he testified before a grand jury. Weisselberg has been at the heart of the Trump companies for over forty years. He knows more about the financial dealings of the president, his company and his children than any other person.
Southern District prosecutors are renowned for being the toughest and most competent in the nation and it is obvious the president and his organization are in their sights. Based on the documents and other evidence collected in the Cohen raid, it is highly likely they will be looking for evidence of money laundering, tax evasion and more. If crimes were committed, these investigators will find them.
A few days after Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee, House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent document requests to 81 individuals and organizations with the intent to investigate Trump’s abuse of power, obstruction of justice and public corruption. Weisselberg was on this list. He will no doubt be called to testify before one or more House committees. Will Weisselberg lie and risk jail time to save the Trump family? I doubt it.
Based on what we know — which is probably a fraction of what prosecutors know — the president could face charges of making illegal campaign contributions, obstructing justice, defrauding banks and insurance companies, laundering money and evading taxes. Family members Donald Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka and her husband Jerad Kushner could also face one or more of these charges.
While Justice Department guidelines dictate that a sitting president should not be indicted, this policy could be tested in the courts and legal scholars differ on what the outcome would be. Clearly, however, Trump’s children have no such protection.
Consequently, this year could well be a watershed regarding the criminal liability of Trump, his organization and his family. I believe an individual is innocent until proven guilty. But I would bet heavily that Trump has committed serious felonies that meet the standard for impeachment and warrant lengthy jail time.
It is clear, however, that Trump has abandoned a legal defense in favor of a media blitz against Mueller and the Democrats. That’s why he keeps claiming “no collusion” and insists that Mueller is on a witch hunt. He apparently thinks that Mueller won’t indict him so the real threat is impeachment, which is a political process he expects to win. But does he have his eye on the wrong ball?
Perhaps Trump believes that winning reelection will stymie the many other charges that could be brought against him. That strategy, however, would be a real roll of the dice. Even if he wins, Republicans must retain control of the Senate and retake the House for him to be safe. With all of the evidence that will likely come out of the Mueller report, the Southern District investigations and the congressional hearings in the House, it would seem unlikely Trump could achieve that trifecta.
But here’s the thing, if Trump runs and loses in 2020, regardless of the congressional contests, I believe he will be indicted for a number of serious crimes. One or more of his children could also be charged; his business would be destroyed; and he and one or more of his children could end up in jail. With a Democrat as president, there would be little chance for pardons.
I believe Trump’s lawyers should advise him to negotiate a deal to resign sometime this year before more damning evidence develops. He could claim he has done great things but is eager to get back to his businesses. Newly installed President Pence could grant a pardon for the federal crimes that now threaten Trump and his family and any charges by state jurisdictions could probably be resolved as part of the agreement, perhaps with fines.
The president is showing the stress as the processes of justice are closing in on him. One way or another, I believe there is a good chance he won’t be running for reelection in 2020.