Welcome Home Mr. President

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

Donald Trump is in for something he never expected. He expected to be lauded as the president who returned America to the way he remembers it from his childhood. The America he has seen in the movies. The U.S. Army wins every battle. Men are men. Women stay at home, or if they insist on work they are subservient to men. The middle class is content with a modest home in the suburbs and a new car. The poor are segregated in areas the rest of America knows how to avoid.

So far, things have not worked out as planned and they about to get far worse.

Trump returned Saturday night to a much different White House than the one he left less than ten days ago. Two weeks ago it was a White House under duress induced by incompetence. Now it is a White House under siege. Investigations by a special prosecutor and two congressional committees are about to strip Trump of the ability to set his own agenda.

The probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller is the most troubling. It is beginning as an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but could end up straying into Trump’s personal life, his businesses, the personal life of his family and their business interests. That is how these things go. You are pulled over for a broken tail light and arrested when police find a body in the trunk.

In the case of Donald Trump, even his most ardent supporters would probably not be surprised if it turned out he had broken the law at some point in his past. His voters have never seen him as a saint, but as someone who can get things done, even if it means breaking the rules.

The decision by Trump to hire outside counsel and set up a “war room” to deal with the several on-going investigations is not a crafty political strategy, as has been portrayed in the news media, it is a legal necessity which demonstrates the depth of trouble the president faces. This is not a workload issue. The president’s White House legal counsel cannot act as Trump’s personal defense attorney. That office represents the presidency as an institution, not Trump himself. The goal of outside counsel is to keep Trump out of prison. Members of his family and his staff will need to hire their own lawyers as well.

This is a situation that will weigh down the administration until all issues are resolved. It could take years and it is unlikely to end well for Trump. Potential outcomes, in ascending order include: The forced firing or resignations of key staff, the indictment of people close to Trump, lack of public confidence that makes it difficult to work with Congress and makes re-election impossible. Impeachment. Resignation. Prison.

Layers of Investigation

Special counsel Mueller will plod purposefully through the facts in an effort to build a case. Some avenues of investigation will lead nowhere, but along the way, the evidence will inevitably point in new directions. It would be unusual for the FBI and a special prosecutor to close an investigation by saying, “There is nothing to see here.” Trump and his family have a pattern of pushing the edges when it comes to ethics that continues to this day. The environment is target rich.

Simultaneously, Senate and House committees are looking into the same set of facts from a different perspective. The findings of the congressional investigations will be revealed in real time through open hearings and leaks. The information uncovered by Congress will provide leads for Mueller.

There will be conflicts between the legal strategy of the White House and the legal strategy of Trump’s defense lawyers. This can lead to crisis involving the legislative and executive branch that might eventually need to be settled by the courts. Battling it out in court is a tactic Trump has long relied on.

Conflicting legal strategies, coupled with the mere existence of the on-going investigations, also make it extremely difficult to develop a communications plan to build support for the president’s policy priorities. Communications has been difficult for this White House since the start. Enforcing the discipline that has been lacking is now a matter of survival.

The Trump administration is hobbled by outside forces seeking truth Trump would prefer to hide.

Political vs. Legal

Most criminal investigations occur in an arena safe from politics, but the Trump investigations are taking place on the biggest political stage in the world. Daily, Democrats in Congress will seek to exploit events for political gain. Each day, Republicans will take the temperature to decide whether it is in their interest to continue standing with the president or whether doing so has become a political liability.

You will remember from the campaign that most establishment Republicans were not enthusiastic supporters of Trump and have offered their support during the first four months of the administration only because the president might be able to help them turn their agenda into law. They only need his signature, and in truth, they only need the signature of a president, not necessarily President Trump. At present there seems to be no appetite for impeachment, but things can change quickly when members see their own re-election being put in jeopardy. Next year is an election year. The pressure is already on.

As far-fetched as impeachment seems, it is notable that the word is being used so freely in political conversation. Far-fetched is not the same as unimaginable. The standard for impeachment does not require a conviction in the courts. Impeachment is influenced more by the court of public opinion.

The Human Factor

President Trump has created some committed enemies with incentive to do everything in their power to make his life miserable and even bring him down. Most of those enemies are familiar with the ways of Washington. Trump is not. His biggest miscalculation has been thinking that the skills that brought him success in the private sector would translate to the White House.

Here is the list of people and institutions Trump has offended: The intelligence community, the State Department, a large portion of the FBI, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former FBI Director James Comey, former NSA Director Michael Flynn, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, past members of the Obama administration, the news media, members of the White House staff Trump has embarrassed or sacrificed, and of course, the vast left wing conspiracy that is the Hillary Clinton administration in exile. This group has the motive and means to knock the administration off its stride just for sport. They have got nothing better to do than get even.

So Mr. President, welcome home. In time, you will look back on your first 100 days as an easy stroll through the Rose Garden. Ahead is a much more difficult path you have paved with your own selfishness, paranoia, and insecurity.