Mueller’s in­quiry is Trump’s real threat

Ex-FBI head’s book a di­ver­sion as spe­cial coun­sel tar­gets lawyer

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Tom Mc­Carthy

In for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James Comey’s book, A Higher Loy­alty, ob­tained by the Guardian last week from a book­seller in New York be­fore pub­li­ca­tion, the for­mer of­fi­cial casts Trump as both “un­eth­i­cal” and “un­teth­ered to truth” and com­pares his pres­i­dency to a “for­est fire”.

But Comey is not the only for­mer FBI chief giv­ing Trump a mi­graine – the spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble Rus­sian col­lu­sion with the Trump cam­paign has been ac­cel­er­at­ing and is also en­rag­ing the pres­i­dent.

The sky be­gan to fall in for Trump last Mon­day, when FBI agents raided the of­fices and a ho­tel room used by Trump’s lawyer Michael Co­hen. The raids were a strong sign that pros­e­cu­tors might soon charge one of Trump’s fiercest loy­al­ists with a se­ri­ous crime or crimes, le­gal ex­perts said.

As the im­pli­ca­tions of those raids con­tinue to sink in, Trump may be lured to­wards the kind of dras­tic ac­tion that would send fis­sures through the ex­ec­u­tive branch and be­yond.

“The raid of Michael Co­hen’s of­fice was a seis­mic event, for any pres­i­dency,” said An­drew Wright, a for­mer White House as­so­ciate coun­sel and a pro­fes­sor at Savannah Law School. “I think he [Co­hen] is in very se­ri­ous trouble.

“And sure enough, the pres­i­dent ap­pears to have re­ally come pretty un­hinged at that news, so I think that’s in­cred­i­bly sig­nif­i­cant.”

Even for a White House that can seem to cy­cle from cri­sis to ex­treme cri­sis, the cur­rent pres­sure on Trump, and the re­sult­ing peril for his pres­i­dency and the coun­try, is acute, ac­cord­ing to sea­soned pros­e­cu­tors.

“The pres­sure on the pres­i­dent is unimag­in­able to me,” said El­iz­a­beth de la Vega, who was a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor for more than 20 years.

While the pub­lic has no way of know­ing how far along Mueller is in his work, De la Vega said, the de­ci­sion to con­duct the Co­hen raids, given their high stakes, could in­di­cate that pros­e­cu­tors had com­pleted sig­nif­i­cant work be­hind the scenes.

Co­hen, who has de­nied all wrong­do­ing, could face charges in­clud­ing bank fraud, wire fraud, cam­paign vi­o­la­tions, tax crimes or other charges re­lat­ing to pay­ments made to mul­ti­ple women be­fore the 2016 elec­tion, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions there­after with at least one of those women.

In the days since the Co­hen raids, Trump has lashed out at Mueller and his su­pe­rior, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, Rod Rosen­stein.

“Mueller is most con­flicted of all (ex­cept Rosen­stein...),” Trump tweeted in a tirade last Wed­nes­day against “the Fake & Cor­rupt Rus­sia In­ves­ti­ga­tion, headed up by the all Demo­crat loy­al­ists, or peo­ple that worked for Obama”.

Mueller has in­dicted or reached plea agree­ments with 19 in­di­vid­u­als, plus three com­pa­nies in Rus­sia. He is a Repub­li­can, as is Rosen­stein. So are Comey and Jeff Ses­sions, the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

None of Mueller’s tar­gets has been as close to Trump as Co­hen, who is a friend of the fam­ily, has been in­volved with the Trump chil­dren on real estate deals, and who could have a lot to tell pros­e­cu­tors about op­er­a­tions in­side the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The vis­ceral threat of a pros­e­cu­tion so close to his com­pany and his fam­ily could drive the pres­i­dent to take a step that the White House as­serted last week was within his power: re­mov­ing Mueller, or per­haps Rosen­stein.

Mem­bers of Congress in both cham­bers have said they sup­port pass­ing leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect the spe­cial coun­sel, but such leg­is­la­tion is mov­ing slowly.

Trump, mean­while, con­tin­ues to be­lieve that the best way to han­dle the prose­cu­tions swirling around him is to fight back with all the power the pres­i­dency can muster.

Net closes in … Michael Co­hen

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