Over the past year and a half, life in politics has often felt like an ongoing circus in which the madness never ceases. But for all that, the next 11 weeks could be the most intense and consequential of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Let’s begin with a report in the New York Times that the case against Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, might be coming to a head:
Federal authorities investigating whether President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, committed bank and tax fraud have zeroed in on well over $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that he and his family own, according to people familiar with the matter.
Investigators are also examining whether Mr. Cohen violated campaign finance or other laws by helping to arrange financial deals to secure the silence of women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. The inquiry has entered the final stage and prosecutors are considering filing charges by the end of August, two of the people said.
There’s a serious possibility that Cohen will cooperate with prosecutors in order to obtain leniency, and there’s no telling what he might be able to reveal about the Trump Organization, the president himself and the president’s children, with whom he worked closely. The company has a history of deals with questionable characters in questionable circumstances, including many that went south amid accusations of misconduct. If Cohen chooses to sing, he might have a thick libretto to work from.
Needless to say, if Cohen were to implicate the president or his family in some kind of criminal wrongdoing, it would be a political earthquake. But even if he doesn’t cooperate, if he is indicted in the coming weeks, that would itself be a serious blow to Trump’s presidency. Even if much of what Cohen is accused of doesn’t have to do directly with his former boss, it would contribute to the growing impression that Trump is a corrupt man who surrounds himself with other corrupt men.
And here are some other things that could or, in some cases, will happen between now and the first week in November:
- Paul Manafort will either be convicted or acquitted in his first trial, presumably this week (the jury is currently deliberating). And his second trial — which will deal more directly with his work in the former Soviet Union and the ways it may have affected his actions as Trump campaign chairman — will begin in mid-September.
- Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could hand down more indictments, or even release a final report on all that he has learned in his investigation.
- Trump will likely continue to revoke the security clearances of his critics in the intelligence community, which will generate more bipartisan condemnation and comparisons to Richard Nixon.
- Omarosa Manigault Newman will release more tapes she recorded of conversations with people in the White House.
- A lawsuit will begin in Texas in which Republican states and the administration will be arguing for the entire Affordable Care Act to be struck down, handing Democrats a priceless campaign issue.
- Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings will take place. Even if the process ends with a win for Trump, it will also likely generate an immediate backlash, a wave of fear and opposition from Democrats as they realize the implications of an intensely partisan, intensely conservative Supreme Court.
That’s just what we know about. There are other things, both foreseeable and not, that could increase the president’s stress during this period. We recently learned that White House counsel Donald McGahn was interviewed for 30 hours by Mueller’s team, interviews that were initially approved by Trump as part of a strategy of cooperation but might well have turned into a way for McGahn to protect himself. We have no idea what McGahn told them about Trump’s actions or how it might relate to Russia and contribute to a case of obstruction of justice. Trump’s trade war has so far seemed to generate nothing but job losses and uncertainty. There could be international crises and more conflict with our allies. And if history is any guide, Trump will react to all of it with petulance and resentment, occasionally boiling over into outright rage.
The culmination of this intense period is, of course, the November elections. The wave of scandal news will only increase the likelihood that Democrats will win control of the House, and as much as we’ve talked about that possibility, we haven’t fully reckoned with how transformative it would be.
Right now Congress is all but nonexistent as a force in our political life; having passed a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, Republicans have given up on any serious legislating, and certainly aren’t exercising anything resembling oversight of the administration. But if Democrats have control, they’ll begin holding hearings and mounting investigations of all the Trump scandals. Russia will be just the beginning; they’ll use their subpoena power and ability to create news events to probe the president himself, possible misconduct committed by other members of his administration (of which there is a nearly inexhaustible supply) and various policy outrages. It will be a ceaseless drumbeat of Trump scandal for the next two years.
For a president who is unendingly frustrated by the constraints put upon him and the criticism he gets even when his party controls all the centers of power in Washington, it will be a nightmare. And it all starts now.