Donald Trump in legal and political peril: Opponents say his future is 'behind bars' if not re-elected; voting patterns show Trump’s base isn’t good enough

New York: “Lock her up” - Trump’s signature chant about Hillary Clinton at his raucous rallies, has come back to haunt him and his family for Christmas 2018 and will harass him relentlessly through his remaining time in the White House if it’s proved that he did indeed direct illegal hush money payments to women during his presidential campaign. For the first time since taking office, the US president is tied fo a federal crime and is the central figure in multiple investigations by both special counsel Robert Mueller and Southern District of New York - especially the one where he is being directly implicated by his own Justice department. Yet, unless at least 20 Republican senators break with Trump, he stays put in the White House until the next election comes around because of a Justice Department guideline that cautions against indicting a sitting president. But what if Trump doesn't get re-elected? Legal experts are saying Trump's immunity is wiped out the moment he ceases to be president and midterm results show that Trump's vote base doesn't seem enough for a sure shot win in 2020.

 Donald Trump in legal and political peril: Opponents say his future is behind bars if not re-elected; voting patterns show Trump’s base isn’t good enough

File image of Robert Mueller. AP

“Even if a sitting president can’t be indicted, he’s got to know his future looks like it’s behind bars unless he cuts some sort of deal with the prosecutors”, says Neal Katyal, former Acting acting solicitor general.

Donald Trump’s line is that there’s no "smocking gun" (sic) but Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor says prosecutors don’t work lie that, common sense doesn’t either: “Do not let Donald Trump raise the bar and change the rules here. Real world criminal cases almost never have a “smoking gun” - even murders. Cases are built piece by piece and we have to assess the evidence as a whole. It’s the whole picture that matters.”

Trump remains in denial about the scandals besieging him but his own Justice Department has put him in legal jeopardy by directly implicating him in an illegal scheme involving hush money payments to a porn actress and a former Playboy model. Last Friday's filings make clear the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.

Here's how that worked out: Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen attempted to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign. Both women alleged they had extramarital affairs with Trump, which the White House denies. Prosecutors in New York said Cohen "acted in coordination and at the direction" of Trump (named as 'Individual 1' in the court filings). Though Cohen had previously implicated Trump in the payments, the Justice Department is now linking Trump to the scheme and backing up Cohen's allegations.

“Impeachment” and “imprisonment” - words absent from American news coverage for many months, have returned with a vengeance. Trump’s political opponents are now dipping their toes in that territory as tension mounts inside the White House over Mueller's "witch hunt". It’s not a straight line from the White House to jail and nobody’s greenlighting impeachment proceedings until the final Mueller report is out but something’s changed after Mueller’s charging documents filed last week. “Is this an impeachable offense?” and “Is Trump not yet in jail only because he’s president” have become the loudest talking points in Washington D.C; in the same week Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly scrambled away to Canada fearing arrest.

At a time when Trump was hoping for a $ 5 billion cash gift for his border wall rhetoric under the Christmas tree, the political winds began blowing hard in the other direction. Legal and political peril have mounted exponentially for Trump in the last 10 days alone as Robert Mueller’s bombshells have begun exploding in Washington DC courts - mainly sentencing memos for Trump’s former legal fixer Cohen, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

What we know so far is not the full story but it’s already a powerful tale that combines familiar elements from other (Trump) scandals; corruption that's executed in a fairly shabby and chaotic method. Fired FBI chief James Comey has already warned against Democratic overreach. His message for the resistance: “Impeachment will be very bad for America. One third of the country will be convinced that there was a coup. Instead, oust Trump with a landslide in 2020".

Indeed, Trump is dealing with political setbacks too. His base is not enough for him to pull through in 2020, midterm election results have shown. Democrats rocked the cities, Republicans dominated in the boondocks, suburbs played tiebreaker and gave Democrats the House. This is a giant red flag: Trump's base, in and of itself, will not be enough to win 2020. Despite the dog whistling tactics Trump employed in the midterms, the House was lost even though the Republican turnout was very high and their candidates got more votes than the best numbers in the last decade.

Three takeaways, all worrisome for the Republicans, dominate the midterm lessons learnt: Republicans lost among swing voters, the Republican base is smaller overall than the Democratic one and finally, Republican voters are concentrated in rural areas.

The resistance turned out in great numbers rarely seen before in midterms - performing well in both traditional Midwest swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election in 2016. If the 2020 election plays out on these lines - where does Trump go? The political fallout among his base may be minimal, but his base alone won't do. The political and psychological factors that may motivate the Trump voter - after all these Mueller reports are out in the open - are complex. More court filings will follow; Cohen will be sentenced this week and each time more granular details will fill the gaps in our understanding of how Trump came to be president and why he's so obsequious towards Russia. What is clear though, is this: Robert Mueller’s steady stream of court filings speak of a US Presidency which is horribly compromised. At least that debate has ended.

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 06:20:07 IST

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