Trump: The Presidency in Peril

If Donald Trump leaves office before four years are up, history will likely show the middle weeks of May 2017 as the turning point. Chief among his mounting problems are new revelations surrounding the question of whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia in its effort to tip the 2016 election. If Trump has nothing to hide, he is certainly jumpy whenever the subject comes up and his evident worry about it has caused him to make some big mistakes. The president’s troubles will continue to grow as the investigators keep on investigating and the increasingly appalled leakers keep on leaking.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump; drawing by Pancho

Two especially damaging disclosures occurred on Friday, May 19, the day Trump departed on his first foreign trip. That afternoon, while Air Force One was in the air, The Washington Post broke an ominous story that law enforcement investigators had under scrutiny a “person of interest” on the White House staff, described as “close to the president.” No longer was the focus on a small number of people at some distance from Trump, such as his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime adviser and political troublemaker Roger Stone, or Carter Page, briefly Trump’s national security adviser during the campaign. The indications are that the “person of interest” is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

Though younger and more composed, Kushner is a lot more like Trump than is generally understood. Both of them moved their father’s businesses from the New York periphery to Manhattan. Like his father-in-law, Kushner came to Washington knowing a lot about real estate deals but almost nothing about government. Both entered the campaign and the White House unfamiliar with the rules and laws and evidently disinclined to check them before acting. Thus, Kushner has reinforced some of Trump’s critical weaknesses. Trump has thrust project after project upon him (the only top aide he could trust), and Kushner, who has a high self-regard, has taken on a preposterous list of assignments. He was able somehow (likely through his own leaks) to gain a reputation—along with his wife, Ivanka Trump—as someone who could keep the president calm and prevent him from acting impulsively or unwisely.

In the days before Trump’s foreign trip, however, others on the White House staff, by now not fans of Kushner, leaked that he had encouraged Trump to make the shortsighted decision in early May to fire FBI Director James Comey. By getting rid of the man who was overseeing the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, the president stirred widespread outrage and reinforced suspicions that he had something to hide. (Richard Nixon, who was a lot smarter than Trump is, similarly misread the way the public would react when he arranged for the firing of his special prosecutor, Archibald Cox.) One concrete and dangerous result was that Trump was quickly confronted with something worse: a special counsel—Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor as FBI…


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