During most of Easter Week, Donald Trump was uncharacteristically silent. Then, starting on Easter Sunday, Trump tweeted that he would end DACA, “stop” NAFTA, and move troops to the Southern Border. What spurred this crazy talk?
There are several theories about why Trump unleashed his immigration tweetstorm. One theory is that it was because conservative Republicans have slammed him for signing the $1.3 trillion spending bill (March 23rd) without securing funds for his border wall. Another was that for most of Easter Week, the White House staff had constrained him so that he wouldn’t tweet about Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal; on Saturday and Sunday, freed from the restrictions imposed by White House Chief-of-Staff John Kelly, Trump vented his frustration on Twitter. Another theory is that, on Sunday morning, Trump was watching Fox News and responded to one of their reports. The Final theory is that Trump is coming apart because of pressure from his legal woes. That’s the theory that seems most plausible.
Trump is facing legal action on three fronts: Interaction between his presidential campaign and Russia, lawsuits brought by aggrieved women, and lawsuits based on the “emoluments” clause of the Constitution.
Russia Probe: On February 16th, the Justice Department unveiled the first of four pillars of the Mueller investigation into interference in the 2016 election: the indictment of 13 Russians for Internet-based meddling.
In the coming months we’re likely to see indictments clustered around the three additional pillars of the Mueller inquiry: hacking, collusion, and obstruction. The hacking indictments should explain who hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
The collusion pillar would explore the illicit cooperation between Russian operatives, involved in election interference and hacking, and the Trump campaign. On March 29th, the Mueller inquiry alleged that while Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were working for the Trump campaign, they had contact with a Russian intelligence operative.
Finally, the fourth pillar of the Mueller investigation should focus on obstruction of justice: has the Trump Administration blocked DOJ efforts to understand interference in the 2016 election?
Recently there’s been an unravelling of the Trump legal team responding to the Mueller inquiry. The lead lawyer, John Dowd, resigned and has yet to be replaced. Meanwhile, there’s intense speculation about whether Trump will agree to an interview with the inquiry (many observers believe that because of Trump’s penchant for mendacity he should not testify).
(By the way: in parallel with the Mueller inquiry is the Cockrum vs. Trump lawsuit; where three private individuals — Ray Cockrum, Scott Comer and Eric Schoenberg — are suing Donald Trump and Roger Stone for violating their privacy and civil rights by participating in the hack of the DNC emails.)
Trump’s Women: There are three lawsuits of note. The first involves actress Stormy Daniels (real name Elizabeth Clifford) who alleges that, in 2006, she had an affair with Trump and subsequently was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about it. On April 2nd, Trump’s legal team asked that this dispute be settled in (private) arbitration. Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, wants a (public) civil trial. (There’s a separate allegation that the $130,000, paid in October 2016, violated campaign finance laws.)
The second lawsuit involves model Karen McDougal who alleges that she had an affair with Trump and, in 2016, was paid $150,000 by America Media Inc. (which publishes the National Enquirer) for the story. McDougal claims that American Media actually paid her in order to kill the story. (There’s a separate allegation, brought by Common Cause, that the $150,000 was an illegal campaign contribution.)
The third lawsuit involves Summer Zervos who alleges that Trump sexually harassed her in 2007. She’s one of more than twenty women who came forward, during the 2016 political campaign, to charge Trump with harassment. Before Trump took office he accused these women of lying; in response, Zervos filed a defamation suit. It wended its way through the courts and, on March 20th, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that the suite could go forward citing court precedent from the Bill Clinton-Paula Jones case: “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts.” (Trump’s attorneys have appealed this ruling.)
The Trump attorneys handling these cases are not those representing him in the Mueller investigation.
Emoluments: Article I of the Constitution says, “No Person holding any Office… shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (An emolument is a profit of any kind.) Since Trump took office there have been lawsuits that alleged that Trump businesses illegally accept payments from foreign governments. (That is, Trump is using his position as President to benefit his businesses,)
Several of these lawsuits have been dismissed on technical grounds. However on March 28th, a Federal Judge in Maryland let an emolument lawsuit go forward. This action, brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, focuses on the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC: “The District of Columbia and Maryland said their local residents who compete with Trump’s businesses, such as Trump International Hotel… , are harmed by decreased patronage, wages and tips…”
In this instance, Trump is represented by the Justice Department, not his private attorneys.
Summary: Trump’s legal woes aren’t going away soon. Each of the three threads is likely to persist for the duration of 2018. (The Washington Post indicates that the Mueller probe is likely to issue a preliminary report in mid-Summer but that doesn’t mean the probe will end then.) Many observers believe that the Summer Zervos lawsuit is on the fastest track and may cause Trump to be deposed by summer.
For the rest of the year, Trump will be under pressure from these lawsuits. Expect Trump’s bizarre behavior to continue.