In this era of frighteningly tiny attention spans and news cycles which barely last an hour, the indictments and guilty plea of President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides — including the man who ran the whole show during a key period of time — in the Russia probe have already faded from news coverage as quickly as advertisements for Halloween costumes. We have learned a lot in the past few days, however, and it seems clear that, while we don’t know exactly when or how, we already have a very good idea of the way this is all going to end.
To be clear, I am in the large group of people who still does not have a great deal of confidence about what really happened with regard to Russian influence on the 2016 election. To review, I believe that Russia did impact the results (though maybe not the winner) and that there is already an awful lot of smoke indicating that they had the help/support/backing of the Trump team in their efforts. I am not yet convinced, however, that “collusion” on Trump’s part has been proven, or even makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, after this week, for those who are not already members of Trump’s “Cult 45,” it is now at least very obvious that, contrary to the president’s constant claims, this story is NOT “Fake News!” We also now know, as the dust on the story begins to settle, that the allegations and evidence here are even stronger than first generally perceived on Monday.
My sense for a while now has been that Special Counsel Robert Mueller strongly believes that there was some sort of “collusion” and serious criminal activity associated with the Trump/Russia relationship, but that he is going to have a very difficult time proving that given the nature of the alleged activity and the very high burden of evidence that he will understandably be held to should he implicate a sitting president of the United States. This week’s news is consistent with that assessment in that it is obvious that he is trying to force Paul Manafort, among others, to “flip” and provide him the evidence that would be needed to accomplish that.
While certainly possible, it seems to me that if this was going to happen that it probably already would have. Therefore, the chances of Mueller ever being able to prove this case, assuming that there is one, to the point of being beyond all conceivable doubt, appear to be somewhat remote.
This leads me to my primary conclusion that there now appears to be very little, if any, chance that all of this ends well for the nation. After all, it now appears impossible that the president and his campaign will be fully exonerated by this investigation, which obviously, if based in truth, would have been the best outcome for all of us.
Now that exoneration is pretty much off the table, here are the most likely other possible outcomes, none of which spare the country from significant further damage.
As I already implied, I think the most likely scenario is something close to the Bill Clinton precedent, where much of the nation perceives Trump as being guilty of a very serious crimes, but that, given the political realities, there is no way to force him from power. This would leave a dangerously damaged president in office and most of the country feeling badly violated.
Under this set of circumstances, as long as Republicans hold the House, there will be no impeachment of Trump, and if Democrats take control there will be no (probably to their political delight) removal of him because he would be saved by Republicans in the Senate.
If Trump really is guilty of serious offenses, then the obvious remedy would be for a Republican Congress to remove him from office and wash away that stain from our national history. It could not be more obvious, however, that most Republican officials are less open to concluding that Trump is guilty than the O.J. Simpson jury was in that his infamous injustice.
Of course, Trump could try to cut this all off before Mueller even concludes his work, which would likely be even worse for the nation. Should he try to force Muller’s firing, or issue preemptive pardons to the key players here, it would trigger a likely constitutional crisis because there is no sign that Republicans in Congress would have the courage to hold him accountable for what would be a brazen abuse of his presidential powers (this is why yesterday a group of “Concerned Conservatives,” of which I am part, signed a letter urging them to proactively prevent this from happening).
Under this scenario, justice is obstructed, the truth is lost, Russia wins big-time, and the president, and the office he holds, are still very badly diminished. Thanks largely to “conservative” media outlets like Fox News blindly blocking for him on this, however, the Trump cult will NOT leave him over it. In fact, they would likely cheer his outrageous acts and be embolden in their belief that this was all just a way for the “establishment” to overturn an election that they didn’t like. This would leave the nation perilously divided.
Another option, which would normally be the proper course of action should Mueller’s conclusions warrant it, would be for Trump to resign as Richard Nixon did in the midst of Watergate. Unfortunately, part of the “perfect storm” here is that Trump, unlike Nixon, has shown absolutely no penchant for placing the good of the nation (or anything else for that matter) over his own self -interest. Trump will NEVER resign and give up the protection of his office without there first being a political bloodbath, especially if he faces personal criminal vulnerability.
So with full exoneration, removal from office, and peaceful resignation all now seemingly unrealistic, that pretty much leaves us with Trump remaining where he is despite massive damage being done to various aspects of the country and our institutions. The only real question is how MUCH harm will be caused.
So why is no one even talking about this? Wait, hold on, a new famous person got accused of sexual harassment?!
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.