Tuesday, August 8, 2017

For Trump's presidency August is the most dangerous month

Tomorrow, August 9th, is the anniversary of the 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon. This year, we have another embattled president plagued by scandals, congressional hearings, a special prosecutor, grand juries, and the lowest approval rating in modern history. In a post back in March (The Tweets of August) I predicted the rapidity with which Trump’s troubles have arisen.

… The Watergate scandal ran from June 1972 until Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. But then we did not have CNN, Fox News, Twitter, and blogs. Given the more rapid pace of news I’m betting that the scandal will unfold in a matter of months, not years, and that there will be serious hearings underway by the date of Nixon’s resignation, August 9th.

And in spite of his troubles, Trump is off on a golfing vacation. Here is a trifecta of reports from the Washington Post detailing Trump’s troubles in a dangerous month.

‘Fake news’? The Russia investigation is getting very, very real.

Amber Phillips reports the evidence for the investigation being very real.

… just because an investigation is indeed very real doesn’t mean we know its conclusion. It could take months, even years, to finish, much less come to a conclusion about whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the White House. But with each passing day, it’s increasingly clear this investigation is neither made up nor built on fake news.

Congress is taking it seriously. Republican-led committees in the Senate and the House are leading parallel investigations into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election and have said they’ll go wherever the facts lead.

Outside those committees, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress are writing legislation to give Mueller room to do his investigation and make sure that Trump can’t fire him. It’s yet another example of Congress putting its faith somewhere besides with Trump. They forced Trump to sign a Russia sanctions bill into law last week, and the Senate left town but technically stayed in session so that Trump can’t fire, then self-replace, his attorney general and reshape the special counsel investigation.

It’s expanding, both in size and scope. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has built a team of lawyers who have expertise in cybercrime, white-collar crime, the mob, money laundering and Watergate. …

It’s getting more in depth. As the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, they’ve set up a grand jury, which can subpoena witnesses and documents and, if need be, indict people. …

The Trump campaign has a lot of Russian connections. And the more we learn about them, the deeper they seem. …

As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst.

Snippets from Greg Sargent’s post follow.

President Trump is again attacking the media this morning [August 7], and his broadsides carry a newly ominous edge: He is both faulting the media for allegedly downplaying the size and intensity of support from his base and accusing them of trying to deliberately weaken that support for him.

Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning institutional safeguards, but rather an effort to steal the election from him — and from them.

It bears repeating that Mueller’s investigation is looking at how a hostile foreign power may have sabotaged our democracy, and at whether the Trump campaign colluded with it, and at conduct by Trump himself that came after the election: Whether the firing of former FBI Director James B. Comey after a demand for his loyalty was part of a pattern of obstruction of justice. The first of these has been attested to by our intelligence services, and evidence of the second (at least in the form of a willingness to collude) and the third of these has been unearthed by dogged scrutiny by news outlets. It is hardly an accident that Trump continues to cast doubt on the credibility of both those institutions, even as he and his spokespeople continue to cast the entire affair as an effort to reverse the election by illegitimate means.

We don’t know what all the ongoing scrutiny will produce in the way of revelations. But if it does produce any serious wrongdoing by Trump and/or his campaign — or even evidence of serious misconduct that is not criminal — it’s not difficult to imagine what might happen next. Trump’s advisers regularly tell us he will cooperate with Mueller’s probe and play down the possibility of any effort to remove the special counsel. But Trump has confirmed that he is furious with his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for failing to protect him from the Russia investigation. That Trump confirmed this publicly only further underscores that he has zero sense of any obligation to the public to follow any rules of conduct, and plainly views any efforts to hold him accountable to those rules as illegitimate.

To be sure, there are new signs that Republicans in Congress are taking steps to set up safeguards, should Trump try to remove Mueller. There is reassuring evidence that our institutions are holding — for now, anyway — and as Brian Beutler notes, it’s likely that more future revelations about Trump’s unfitness for the presidency will further undercut his efforts to cast institutions holding him accountable as illegitimate. But Trump is already giving every indication that he will go all out in trying. And how much damage that will cause is anyone’s guess.

August is a dangerous month for Trump.

With all of Trump’s troubles, what else could go wrong? Ron Klain lists the other horrors typical of the month of August.

… Veterans of George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s White Houses will tell you: August is the most dangerous month. For a White House such as President Trump’s, already under assault on many fronts, August could be the final straw.

The two most devastating mistakes of Bush’s presidency both came in August. On Aug. 6, 2001, Bush received the now-famous warning in his daily briefing, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”; Bush’s lack of response to that “vacation month” warning drove criticism of his handling of the 9/11 attacks for the rest of his presidency. Four years later, in late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and demolished Bush’s second term.

Ask Obama White House staffers about August, and you will get shell-shocked stares. It was August 2009 when the tea party opposition to health-care reform exploded and turned the Affordable Care Act into political kryptonite. August 2011 saw budget and fiscal talks collapse, cementing the “wasted year” of Obama’s tenure. In August 2014, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson and the Islamic State wreaked havoc in Erbil and Mosul. During Obama’s final August, the president was slammed for not interrupting his vacation to visit flooded Louisiana.

Consider just the specter of a huge hurricane hitting one of our populous southern shores.

In addition to this metaphorical tide of unrest, there is the danger of a literal August surge: a hurricane. The perpetual crises swirling around the White House to date have been entirely self-imposed; we have not seen how Team Trump will cope with outside challenge. The risk that the first such challenge will be a hurricane in August is not small. Four of the five most intense hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history have struck over a 12-day span in late August; virtually every August the past decade has seen some sort of serious storm.

Would the Trump administration respond effectively? The president just stripped the Department of Homeland Security of its leader, was blasted by the outgoing head of hurricane forecasting for how his budget cuts could set back this work, and lacks any experience (as a senator or governor) with navigating a difficult disaster response. As a political matter, a botched hurricane response in the Gulf Coast or Florida would see Trump criticized — not by blue-state leaders he can mock or ignore — but by key members of his own coalition.

And as the administration confronts an array of August dangers — global, political, natural — it will have to do it short-handed. Even well-staffed, well-functioning administrations have trouble in August because key players take vacations, creating a “nobody home” dynamic when flash points erupt. For Trump, badly understaffed at the White House and terribly behind in filling key posts in federal agencies, this risk is intensified. About half the Cabinet departments lack a single Senate-confirmed official to take charge if the secretary is away.

April may be the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot once claimed. But for Team Trump — underachieving, underprepared and understaffed — August is the most dangerous.

And all of this would only amplify voters’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s presidency. Here’s an item from the FiveThirtyEight’s Significant Digits email this morning.

36 percent
Percentage of respondents to a CNN/SSRS poll who said they consider the first 200 days of President Trump’s presidency a success. Fifty-nine percent considered the first 200 days a failure. The first 200 days of President George W. Bush and President Obama saw success assessments of 56 percent and 51 percent, respectively. [CNN]

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