Donald Trump can feel the breath on the back of his neck. Aggressive federal investigators – in the Russia case and a separate inquiry of his lawyer’s behavior related to women who have alleged consensual sexual relationships with Trump – are taking ever more bold actions.
They are getting closer to knowing things that I am sure Trump thought no one but the parties involved would ever know.
This has frightened and enraged the president.
There are reports that Trump is thinking of ways to thwart or constrict the Robert Mueller investigation, including the possibility of firing and replacing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to whom Mueller reports.
As The New York Times has reported, Trump has at least twice sought to fire Mueller.
The first time was last June “amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case,” and the most recent was in December when Trump became “furious” over “reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank.” Those reports about the subpoenas were not correct and Trump backed down.
But there is a pattern here: When the investigation verges into Trump’s areas of vulnerability, he seeks to squash it.
This is not the behavior of an innocent man. This is not the behavior of a “normal” president.
There is no doubt in my mind that a strong case could be made that Trump has consistently sought to obstruct justice. That is as clear as creek water.
Furthermore, no president should be made nervous about his or her financial dealings being made public. Indeed, almost every major party nominee for president in the last 40 years has released his or her tax returns. Trump, however, has refused.
There is clearly something there that he doesn’t want America to know, something damning and catastrophic. He will do anything to keep it from view, including bringing the government to its knees.
And now investigators have raided the room and office of his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen and will have access to the verboten.
Trump’s worlds may well be about to collide and he will move heaven and earth to prevent that.
There were always things that Trump bragged about, true, but even there he often did so with no proof. They were things that he thought grew his legend as a tycoon, cad and pop culture icon.
The truth always seemed far less glamorous and far dodgier.
That truth, the part that he has kept shoved into the shadows, is his vulnerability. Trump clearly views full knowledge of whatever that truth is as mortally injurious to his own sense of repute and renown.
If Trump has lied to the people who still support him about the most central parts of his character, not just months or years ago, but on a consistent basis, and if those lies can be proved by actual documentary evidence of some sort, the whole house of cards crumbles.
Trump seemed to have great confidence that he could keep the personal separate from the political, not fully considering that the whole life of a president – particularly if that person may somehow have skirted the law or flagrantly flouted it – must be part of the public record and any aberrant activity must eventually be held to account.
Trump’s options for keeping his secrets concealed are shrinking by the day. Therefore, Jeff Sessions is not safe. Rosenstein is not safe. Mueller is not safe. The rule of law is not safe. Our democracy is not safe.
What happens from here will truly test this country. It will test the Constitution, our protocols and our conventions.
Maybe the founders and the hundreds of years of politicians following them should have predicted that a person like Trump could ascend to the presidency, but they didn’t, so they didn’t build in sufficient constraints and strictures.
Trump has spent a lifetime probing the regulations for weaknesses, testing the theory that under sufficient weight any bureaucracy can be broken.
He will not hesitate to apply what he has learned to his present predicament. If America must be damaged for him to escape unscathed, he will take that bargain without batting an eye.
And it is by no means clear that his cowardly Republican accomplices in Congress would do anything to prevent or punish him.
The country is in a perilous position. It is in the hands and under the thumb of a man now motivated by a primal survival instinct, a consuming egotism and a petrifying fear of ignominy.
At this point, nothing is beyond the possible, no matter how ill advised and how ultimately destructive. In Trump’s mind, I can only imagine, he has settled on a strategy in the case of his own administration’s Armageddon: If he’s going down, the whole system is going down with him.