March Madness in Washington comes down to guessing who will bring down Trump: the porn star, the playboy bunny, and the reality TV contestant, or special counsel Robert Mueller.
Come Sunday, it will look like Stormy Daniels will be the one to plunge a dagger in the Trump presidency, with her up close and personal interview, complete with photos and stories, on 60 Minutes.
Thursday, it looked like the abrupt resignation of Trump’s attorney John Dowd that could mark the beginning of the end. Dowd was the lead outside criminal lawyer, pugnacious, wily, but above all seasoned in the ways of prosecutors—the most likely to succeed in containing the Mueller probe, if contained it can be. It was clear he was restive over the weekend; he told The Daily Beast that it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to “bring an end” to the investigation, an obvious ploy not intended for Rosenstein but to make the client feel momentarily better. First Dowd said the advice came from the president, then corrected that to say it was his, demonstrating how difficult it is to placate a client who believes he could do a much better job if only he could represent himself.
Dowd was gracious in his resignation, wishing the president well. But not so the president. Just as the White House let it be known that when former secretary of state got a heads-up he was about to be fired he was on the toilet, word is out that Dowd, like Jeb Bush, didn’t have the “energy” for the job.
In fact, he will be hard to replace. No respected lawyer wants the job; former Solicitor General Ted Olson turned it down a few days ago. Dowd’s likely replacement is Marc Kasowitz whose experience runs to representing Trump in his bankruptcies, Trump University, divorces, and sexual misconduct cases. He flamed out in an earlier stint in the White House after he threatened a woman who urged him to resign after reports of alcohol abuse came out, telling her “Watch your back, bitch,” and “I know where you live.” He’s no John Dowd.
But there may be no bracket buster in Washington—neither the special counsel nor so many women with complaints about Trump they could file a class action suit—as long as Republicans do little more than clear their throats when Trump’s conduct comes up.
Sex scandals that would make Hugh Hefner blush are baked in to Trump’s cake, excused by his base, and party “leaders” who follow their lead. Even sex-averse Mike Pence gave Trump a pass over boasting about grabbing lady parts the Sooner barely knew existed before the Access Hollywood tape. More recently, the vice president has given no signal that he’s troubled by the president allegedly cheating on his wife with a porn star at the same time he was cheating on the porn star with a playboy bunny who is, herself, appearing on CNN Thursday night.
No one in the GOP is much upset over lawyer Michael Cohen’s wet work for the boss, complete with forged documents, aliases, and the first known instance of using a home equity loan for hush money. That elaborate scheme fell apart when the genius Trump blew it up by personally filing a suit this week to gag Daniels, officially outing himself as the David Dennison of the secret nondisclosure agreement. All this to keep Daniels’ 60 Minutes interview from airing this Sunday and revealing, perhaps, that his hands are small, after all.
Just this week Trump lost his bid to stop the defamation case brought by Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos—a suit he could have easily avoided if he’d had an ounce of self-control. The statute of limitations had run on the 2007 encounters, it was long before #MeToo, and his usual denials had deep-sixed her story. But he got mad, tweeted out a picture of her (one of his defenses in the court of public opinion has been that many of his accusers are not attractive enough to merit his gropes), and called her a liar. A New York state judge, citing Clinton v. Jones, ruled that her suit can proceed and rejected the president’s contention that he’s simply too important to be sued.
Maybe Trump was right about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue with impunity. These days, to paraphrase a former Louisiana governor, it would take a dead girl or a live boy, and in the Lincoln Bedroom, for Trump’s remaining base to abandon him. Republican officials are too afraid of becoming Sen. Jeff Flake, whose numbers dropped so sharply after his book criticizing Trump that he decided to retire. Or Sen. Bob Corker. He described the West Wing as an adult day care center and World War III as a possibility, but only after deciding that he wouldn’t be running for re-election, hiniring his 2006 pledge to Tennesseans to serve only two terms.
The women aside, firing Mueller used to look like the one line Trump couldn’t cross but that’s blurring now, with Dowd’s departure. Republicans say it would be a constitutional crisis should Trump do it, but he probably won’t, so there’s no rush to do anything to deter him. This even as Trump ratchets up his public statements ripping the pesky prosecutor he hopes to be rid of, and doing so by name now. He’s said to be newly emboldened, on top of his job, shorn of advisers he tired of, uninterested in those who remain, and convinced of his own rightness about everything. Why not float firing Mueller again?
Trump’s latest agitation over Mueller comes as the counsel gets hold of his financial files, portending scrutiny of his board-less, unaccountable, seat-of-the-pants business operation. Trump had assiduously avoided such scrutiny until now, not least by breaking post-Watergate precedent and refusing to release his taxes. The Trump family’s extensive dealings with dubious Russian figures may partly explain Trump’s preference for Putin above all others. Eric Trump told a reporter in 2014 that Russians were the primary investors in their golf courses and Donald Jr. said the same was so for all their investments. Trump took his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow to attract more money from oligarchs and to meet Putin. Trump’s buildings are chock full of Russians who may use the properties to launder money. Trump sold a Palm Beach property he paid $41 million for to a Russian tycoon for $95 million.
But despite a week of the president’s misspelled, all-cap rage-tweeting against Mueller, no one is slipping language into the omnibus spending bill to keep Trump from orchestrating the special counsel’s demise. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, a vocal Trump critic, lent Trump an escape clause, warning the president not to stop the investigation “without cause.” Does that sound like someone who’s going to lead a move to impeach Trump?
“Cause” is something Trump’s spent months fabricating, delegitimizing our democratic institutions in the process as a chorus of lawmakers echo his attacks. The president has relentlessly attacked the F.B.I., which framed him with fabricated evidence according to Trump’s newly hired attorney Joseph DiGenova. It’s so corrupt that former director James Comey and onetime acting director Andrew McCabe had to go. The judiciary is biased. There’s no civil service, just a deep state. The media spews fake news.
And now Trump is, more or less, surrounded by lawyers who will let him provide his own counsel which is to end Mueller’s investigation, despite what he says about welcoming the opportunity to testify. A few days ago, he said how happy he was with Dowd. Look where he is now. There’s still time for Graham to stiffen his spine and bring others with him. There is no known cause that justifies firing Mueller. To be on the wrong side of Trump will put you on the right side of history.