Trump’s Darkest Days
by Elizabeth Drew-WASHINGTON, DC – This isn’t a good time to be Donald J. Trump. Granted, it’s been a while since it was, but this is the grimmest period of his presidency thus far.
And Trump is showing it. Aides have been struggling to muzzle him – not physically, but everything short of that. And, as could have been predicted, they have not been fully effective. Responsible journalists report that Trump White House aides (who are notoriously sieve-like) say the US president feels alone and cornered.
Feeling lonely should not be surprising, as Trump is not one for close friendships. He has proven time and again that for him, loyalty is a one-way street. Virtually no one who works for him can feel secure. Probably no one but his daughter Ivanka is safe from the terminal wrath that eventually pushes so many associates out the door.
Trump’s normal self-pity has intensified lately. He continues to moan about Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Trump has worse problems. His former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has not only been convicted on eight counts of fraud and tax evasion, but, fulfilling Trump’s worst fear, he has also decided to cooperate with Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe and investigating Trump’s effort to block the inquiry into whether his campaign (and even administration) conspired with the Kremlin. It’s clear that the relentless Mueller pressured Manafort into cooperating to avoid a second costly trial.
Trump had dropped hints that he would pardon Manafort, but he was advised – and for once, he listened – that to do so before November’s midterm congressional elections would be catastrophic for the Republicans and therefore him. Manafort apparently calculated that he could neither bet on a pardon later – what if Trump himself was in serious legal danger by then? – nor afford another trial. His plea deal with Mueller strips him of most of his properties and tens of millions of dollars, but he was willing to accept huge financial losses to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
Aside from having his potential prison sentence reduced (to an unknown amount), Manafort also wanted an arrangement that would keep his family safe. After all, he would be giving Mueller’s prosecutors the goods on some Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin – folks who are not particularly gentle toward people who betray them.