Sex, Syria and scandal with Trump in middle
It might be #MeToo, and not the Middle East, which ends Trump's presidency, writes PAUL CONNEW
Will sending scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles thundering into 'animal' Assad's Syrian air bases – risking direct confrontation with Putin's Russia – be enough to divert attention from a ticking domestic sex scandal timebomb in the shape of porn star Stormy Daniels?
It might sound like the implausible plot for a Dr Strangelove-style movie, but for Donald Trump it's a real life or death political dilemma.
At the beginning of the week senior Republican campaign strategists, worried by private polls showing white women – including evangelists who were so crucial to The Donald's shock presidential election – are deserting him over the escalating sex scandal legal battles, told me: 'It's a relief when the media and the American public's attention can be diverted to the president turning his fury against Assad, Putin and Iran and warning they'll pay a big price for slaughtering women and children with chemical weapons. It could also help win back those women voters who've been turning against him.'
But soon that sense of 'relief' rather evaporated when a dramatic FBI raid, authorised by Russian Connection special counsel Robert Mueller, took place at the New York office of Trump's long-serving personal attorney Michael Cohen — the man who has admitted paying $130,000 to Daniels ahead of the presidential election, while insisting he did it out of his own pocket and didn't even tell Trump.
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They seized files relating to the payment to Daniels, who claims to have had a one-night stand with The Donald 12 years ago, along with documents relating to the lawyer's relationship with Trump and his family going back many years.
In an extraordinary twist, it sent a furious POTUS into a new attack mode, switching his attention from firing verbal rockets at Assad, Putin and Iran to targeting the FBI, special counsel Mueller. He claimed, wrongly, that the FBI had illegally 'broken into' lawyer Cohen's Manhattan office and a New York hotel room. The raid, ranted the president, was 'disgraceful' and 'an attack on our country in a true sense'.
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In truth, the FBI had obtained a search warrant from a judge on the grounds they expected to find evidence of 'criminal activity'. Democrats and the activist watchdog group Common Cause are arguing the case that the hush money payment to Daniels (whose extensive porn movie career ironically includes Operation Desert Stormy) is a serious breach of US electoral law. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon also claimed to Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff that up to 100 women had been paid off by Trump lawyers ahead of the 2016 election campaign.
To the dismay of Capitol Hill Democrats and many moderate Republicans, the president's impulsive reaction included reviving his threat to fire Mueller at the risk of sparking a constitutional crisis. He said: 'We'll see what may happen. Many people have said 'you should fire him'.'
It's also worth noting that just hours before the Syrian chemical horror story erupted, Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) had filed a legal application seeking two-hour deposition interviews with both Trump and Cohen, plus a long list of documents he wanted disclosed. Among the questions he wants answered is whether a mysterious figure referred to as 'DD' or 'David Dennison' in the hush money agreement is actually Trump and where the $130,000 originated. Lawyers for Trump and Cohen had countered with a legal petition seeking to compel the case to be dealt with by arbitration — which would be in private and unreportable. Avenatti hit back with: 'This is a democracy and this matter should be decided in an open court of law owned by the people and not hidden from the American public.'
Where that tangled civil court legal battle now goes in the wake of the Mueller-approved FBI raid on Cohen's office will be fascinating.
US intelligence and military chiefs privately acknowledge a connection between Trump's alarm over his escalating sex scandal issues and Assad's alleged chemical attack on innocent civilians in Douma.
They believe the president's ill-advised, off-the-cuff announcement last week that he'd be pulling US troops out of Syria altogether was partly-designed to deflect attention from the Daniels case and a number of other sex scandal lawsuits that are building up against him – the CIA also believe did gave Assad the confidence to carry out the atrocity.
Since Daniels record-ratings appearance on CBS's flagship current affairs show 60 Minutes, the sex scandal furore has been the main topic of fascinated, unflattering conversation around workplace water coolers and commanded too much MSM attention for presidential comfort.
POTUS is only too aware of the joke increasingly doing the rounds in Washington that — in the age of the #MeToo and Time's Up campaign — it won't be Mueller, or the Russian Connection that brings The Donald down, but a trio of porn stars, a Playboy model, a former Apprentice contestant and up to 100 other women with tales to tell and lawsuits to file. Even Bannon has predicted that #MeToo and a female voter backlash, 'could well end' his presidency.