Former Republican presidential candidate and current Senator hopeful Mitt Romney once described U.S. President Donald Trump as a “con artist”. Slander and defamation aside, the former governor might have been right. Trump has spent his life trying to sell more than he can deliver, from his Atlantic City casinos that went bankrupt, to his university that went bust.
Yet failure never deterred Trump, perhaps because “once a salesman, always a salesman”. Without experience in any kind of government office, and without experience in any job other than owning, and bankrupting, his own companies, Trump ran for presidential election on his “business success”, and promised to deliver similar results for the country.
Before the White House, Trump dismissed strong job reports, from the Labor Department, and called them “doctored”. After becoming president, Trump started hailing the same reports as an indicator of his success. The same double-standard applied to almost every aspect of governance under the U.S. president: When things succeed, he claims credit for them even if they were the result of the work of his predecessors. When things fail, he blames his predecessors for his own mistakes and shortcomings.
Fact checkers have repeatedly described Trump as the president who has uttered the biggest number of lies. Yet this never deterred Trump from persisting with even more lies. More importantly, Trump’s falsehoods do not seem to have deterred his followers either, little in number as they may be. To date, despite all his proven lies, some with legal ramifications, Trump still enjoys the unwavering support of a core of Republicans, estimated to be one-third of the party’s voters.
Given the steady support from his fans, Trump has come to think that his salesmanship is the secret ingredient that has brought him this far, and that can protect him, going forward, against possible entanglements with the law.
Trump’s populist tactic means that, in facing any accusations against him and possible indictments, he depends on two things: His diehard supporters, and his vast prerogatives as a president, prerogatives that he has used so far to fire half a dozen senior law enforcement officials who had refused to shutdown investigations into his possible collusion with foreign governments, such as Russia.
Together with his impulsive statements and undisciplined tweets, Trump’s chaotic management at the White House has meant that he has not organized any effective legal defense, should investigations reach his doorstep. Instead of trying to counter Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating into possible Russian interference in America’s 2016 election, Trump has gone after Mueller, and has tried to discredit the special counsel and his integrity.
What Trump has missed is that Lady Justice covers her eyes, while holding the scales, for a reason. Justice was designed to proceed regardless of popular opinion, and even though the president is technically the chief law enforcer, his power has limitations, mainly due to America’s decentralized system.
So far, Mueller has outsmarted Trump on many fronts. First, unlike the chatty Trump, Mueller has remained silent, and has run a tight ship of investigations without leaks. Second, Mueller realizes that Trump has authority to pardon the indicted and dismiss prosecutors, but Trump’s power is over federal law-enforcement only, and does not cover state law-enforcement. Henceforth, the special counsel has collected enough convicting evidence and handed them over to local state prosecutors.
So far, the cases of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, his confidant and publisher of the National Enquirer David Pecker, and his Chief Financial Officer at the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg, have been litigated at the local state level. This means that even if Trump were to dismiss Mueller, these cases will not be interrupted.
The only case remaining in federal hands is that of Trump’s former presidential Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, who was indicted in a case of tax fraud, on eight out of 18 counts. Manafort awaits a second trial pertaining to his connections with the government of Ukraine. While Trump thinks that he can pardon Manafort and end his trials, most law experts believe that a presidential pardon cannot stop state prosecutors from picking up where Mueller was interrupted.
Among the four big Trump associates who have been flipped, indicted or have entered a plea deal, only Manafort stands out as the one who was not close to Trump before the 2016 presidential campaign. This might have convinced Mueller that while other associates of Trump were guilty, in some form or another, Manafort deserves special attention for being an outsider, someone who was introduced to the Trump team by a foreign government. Based on speculation only, it seems that Mueller believes that Manafort holds the keys to the alleged Trump collision with Moscow.
Trump has already tried to preempt any findings. He has said that “there was no collusion with Russia, and even if there were, nothing in the law prohibits it,” a disputed interoperation of the law. If collusion is ever unveiled, the U.S. president will face a host of criminal accusations, including under laws such as the Espionage Act.
Trump has also been the first to utter the word impeachment. In an interview with Fox News, Trump threatened that if he were impeached, the stock market would collapse and every American would become poor. While it remains hard to substantiate Trump’s economic argument, the U.S. president might have chosen to mention impeachment as yet another way to rally his supporters against the investigation.
Trump might eventually fire Mueller, in addition to the top brass at the Justice Department, in order to derail the investigation. But so far, it seems that such tactics have done little to stop justice. If the U.S. president is to stand a chance in proving his innocence, he will need to play the legal game according to the known rules: Hire a team of top lawyers and ask them to counter the formidable Mueller team. Anything else does not seem to be working in Trump’s favor, and may threaten his stay in the White House. Twitter may prove inadequate for saving Trump out of his legal trouble.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.