Mueller’s inquiry is Trump’s real threat
Ex-FBI head’s book a diversion as special counsel targets lawyer
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