The Memo: Trump allies fret as legal troubles multiply

President Trump’s legal troubles are spiraling, and even some people who are supportive of his agenda worry about what comes next.

“They are going after every aspect of his business and his finances, and they have unlimited resources. It’s a huge concern because the Democrats are not on a search for truth but to destroy him and his presidency,” one Republican campaign consultant told The Hill.

Brad Blakeman, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s administration and a strong backer of Trump, insisted that the president had done nothing wrong but acknowledged that the various probes he now faces are so time-intensive that they “take away from his ability to govern.”

{mosads}In addition to the probe into allegations of Russian election interference led by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump faces separate inquiries encompassing matters such as the financing of his 2017 inauguration and payments to women in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Other cases are being pursued by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who allege Trump transgressed the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans officeholders from profiting from foreign interests. 

The state of New York’s recently elected attorney general, Letitia James, won office in part by promising broad investigations into Trump’s past business dealings.

On top of all that, Democrats are asserting their powers now that they are back in the House majority. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last week announced new parameters in his panel’s investigation of Trump, including examining whether any “foreign actor … has sought to compromise or holds leverage” over the president.

Trump has been hitting back even more fiercely than usual. He took the unusual step of complaining during his State of the Union address last week about “ridiculous partisan investigations.” 

Separately, he branded Schiff a “political hack.” He inveighed against “presidential harassment” on Twitter. And, on Friday, he adopted a familiar refrain, insisting that allegations of collusion with Russia were a “GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX.”

But to Trump’s foes and critics, those kind of sentiments betray nervousness.

“There is no question in my mind that Trump feels like the walls are closing in and he is increasingly losing control over his own destiny,” said Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels. “His statements reflect that fact.”

Tim O’Brien, the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion and the author of a book about Trump, said, “I think whenever the president lashes out on social media or in interviews with the press — specifically at people like Schiff or Mueller or [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi — he is usually not doing it from a position of strength.”

The notion that the investigations could reach deep into his business history or affect members of his close family “I think has him in dread,” O’Brien added.

Advocates for the president see things differently, of course. They emphasize that, despite all the investigations so far, no evidence that he personally colluded with Russia had emerged. 

They contend that there has been more noise than substance in all the investigations, and they believe Trump foes such as the New York attorney general are overstating their reach — prosecutors cannot simply delve into Trump’s finances on a fishing expedition, his defenders note.

They also contend that Democrats need to tread carefully in case voters conclude they are acting purely out of anti-Trump animus.

“I think it is more damaging, actually, to Democrats, because if you are against everything you stand for nothing,” said Blakeman. “If you are purely against the president because he is the president, I think you damage your brand.”

But others broadly sympathetic to Trump worry about whether his verbal assaults on Mueller and other tormentors backfire, deepening suspicions.

Mark Corallo, a communications strategist who served briefly as the spokesman for the president’s outside legal team in 2017, said he can understand why Trump gets so aggravated by the various probes aimed at him.

“That being said, I don’t think it helps to call the Mueller investigation a ‘witch hunt.’ It’s not a witch hunt,” he said. “It’s a serious investigation being conducted by a serious, fair-minded, honorable American lawyer.”

Corallo added that he believed the main peril facing Trump was political rather than legal. 

“His peril is being seen as unreasonable and irrational in front of the electorate. That’s all he has to avoid,” he said.

Those who are more skeptical of the president believe that the dangers are multifaceted, however. 

They note the number of people close to the president who have been indicted, pleaded guilty or been convicted. 

The list now includes his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Manafort’s deputy Richard Gates, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and his longtime associate Roger Stone.

The question of whether the president is well-equipped to push back against the onslaught remains an open one. It is only in the recent past that the White House counsel’s office has significantly staffed up, for example.

O’Brien, the author of the Trump book, noted, “I do think he has many weaknesses as a person, but one of his great strengths is he is a survivor — he is very good at assessing threats to himself. But it took him far too long to see what these threats amounted to.”

Others more closely linked to the fractious Trump circle contend that the president was not fully prepared for the massive political shift as the Democrats took over the House. 

“This is going to be a head-on fight, and I hope those around President Trump that told him he could work with a Democratic-controlled House now appreciate the massive mistake they made,” said the Republican campaign consultant.

The specter of President Nixon’s resignation under threat of removal from office has hung over Trump for some time. But even foes like Avenatti say they see no real chance of a similar scenario unfolding while Republicans, especially in the Senate, remain largely loyal to the president.

Even if Trump does not face that kind of denouement, virtually everyone agrees that there will be some tough and embarrassing days ahead — involving, at a minimum, a succession of Trump allies being hauled before Congress to testify.

“We now have the parallel to what we had in Watergate — people questioning all the president’s men in a public way,” said Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Mark Corallo Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Roger Stone

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