News World The Trump administration ‘goes to the mattresses’ as probes enter new phase

The Trump administration ‘goes to the mattresses’ as probes enter new phase

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The US government will shut down if the Senate doesn't pass funding for Mr Trump's border wall. Photo: Getty
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As one former US president was going to his final resting place last week, the current President was “going to the mattresses”.

Within hours of George HW Bush’s burial in Texas (after a moving and dignified funeral in Washington), President Donald Trump learned that federal prosecutors in New York had accused him of ordering his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make payments to two women in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign to buy their silence over alleged affairs.

The payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen MacDougal were illegal, prosecutors said, violations of US campaign finance laws.

The public has known about these payments for more than a year, but to have a federal prosecutor declare them illegal – and to accuse a sitting president of ordering them – hit as if it were reported anew.

Imagine any other administration weathering such a crisis as just another news cycle.

The Cohen news climaxed a torrent of revelations last week from the investigations into the Trump presidency.

At times confusing and incremental, the developments clearly signalled a new phase in the investigations, and a new sense of peril for the Trump presidency – and the country.

Mr Trump’s response was the usual mix of insult, dismissal and spin.

He falsely claimed, yet again, that the assorted developments “totally clears” him, while calling Cohen a “weak person” who deserved prison.

The President chose to ignore the news that former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who plead guilty last year to lying about his meetings with Russians, had had 19 meetings with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller – meetings that were apparently so fruitful that Mr Mueller asked a judge to spare Flynn prison time.

Ironically, it was Mr Trump who first asked ex-FBI director James Comey to go easy on Flynn in the days after he was forced out of the White House. It looks like he may have gotten his wish – at a price.

Perhaps most ominous was Mr Trump ’s announcement Saturday that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would leave by the end of the year.

I was reminded – as I often am with this White House crew – of acclaimed movie The Godfather.

Donald Trump ahead of the Kim Jong-un summit
News of Mr Kelly’s departure is ‘ominous’. Photo: Getty

“You’re not a wartime consiglieri, Tom,” Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone tells his adopted brother, Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen, as he dismisses him in preparation of going to war with other gangland families.

That warfare, we learned earlier in the film, is called “going to the mattresses” – mob soldiers crashing together in crummy apartments, making meatballs and carrying out hits while waiting out the bloody warfare.  

Anyone who imagines that Mr Trump will do anything less in the face of Mueller’s tightening investigation is deluding themselves.

With Mr Kelly gone, Mr Trump is without even a semblance of restraint.

Whoever replaces Kelly will indeed be a “wartime consiglieri.” The Washington Post this weekend reported that Mr Trump’s team has “no real plan” to deal with the spiralling legal crisis. But they do, of course, and that is for the President to deny, defame and discredit any and all accusations, while crises mount all around him.

As Mr Mueller’s case mounts, Mr Trump’s defiance will no doubt test the bounds of the Constitution.

Mr Trump will seek to defy any and all efforts that challenge his presidency, making Richard Nixon’s legal manoeuvres during Watergate in the 1970s look polite.

Newly empowered Democrats in the lower house of Congress, meanwhile, will almost inevitably move to impeach the President, setting up what former Trump advisor Steve Bannon told the Post would be a year of “siege warfare”.

It will fall, then, to the Republicans – loathe so far to take on Mr Trump for fear of losing his base’s support – to weigh Trump’s fate as they stare at the election of 2020.

Should the economy begin to tank in earnest, should the stock skid gain speed, Republican lawmakers may find it increasingly difficult to dismiss the mounting charges against Mr Trump as the work of a politically motivated prosecutor.  

The economy, after all, is Mr Trump’s only defence against his general ineptitude. Without it, he is a master of chaos with little to show for all his bluster.

Elected Republican officials were notably absent from Sunday’s US political talk shows, no doubt a sign of their unease at Mr Trump’s mounting problems and unwillingness to defend the indefensible.

The coming weeks and months will test their mettle, and whether the deal they made with Mr Trump is, as Don Corleone might put it, something they can now refuse.

Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a current contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America

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