Trump investigations: Could Mueller probe represent final nail in the coffin of US credibility?
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What is the likelihood, asks PAUL CONNEW, of the findings of the Mueller probe ever coming to light?
Donald Trump is already behind bars in jail. The problem is, he's an all-too-colluding prisoner happy to lock the cell door behind him.
For the last few days have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a POTUS held captive by both the dark forces of his own psyche and the sinister far-right influencers who helped him win the White House.
It was there in his unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, to pay back the ultra-conservative US evangelicals, billionaires and lobbyists who backed his election campaign.
No matter that his Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pleaded with him right up until the last moment not to do it.
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No matter that polls show only 16% of Jewish-Americans support unilaterally moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
No matter that overall 63% of Americans oppose the move.
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No matter that, in the opinion of most US diplomats, it has hammered the final nail in the coffin of America's credibility as an honest peacebroker in the Middle East.
No matter that it has succeeded in alienating the UN, all of America's European allies and friends (as well as enemies) across the Middle East, with the lone exception of the troubled right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel itself.
No matter that, while condemning Trump's decision, Vladimir Putin is privately rubbing his hands with glee, knowing full well that it represents another chapter in his success story of outsmarting the US and making Russia the premier influential power across the world's most dangerous region.
According to many US analysts, and figures such as Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Washington-based 'pro-peace, pro-Israel' lobby group J-Street, Trump's action is not just a 'profound mistake' but a dangerous example of how special interest groups rather than US voters or long-term diplomatic targets propel Trump's policy.
Take, for example, as Albert Scardino does on these pages, Sheldon Alderson and his wife Miriam Ochsorn, the Republican party's biggest donors in 2016. After initially not backing Trump, they switched to supporting him during the campaign. Now close confidants of the president, they have long made establishing the US embassy in Jerusalem a personal crusade; so much so that they cut off their donations to the GOP in anger back in May after Secretary of State Tillerson publicly opposed such a move. Intriguingly, the Aldersons attended a private dinner with Trump at the White House on October 2 when, according to certain well-placed sources, they pressed their case very hard with a suitably receptive POTUS.
It is the captivity to special interests from the wealthy climate change-denying lobby that explains Trump's supine willingness to pull the US out of the Paris accord; a decision that not only horrified the vast majority of America's scientific community but certain members of the Trump family.
Such captivity to special interests also, say critics, explains the president's doomed support for disgraced judge Roy Moore, the uber-conservative Alabama senate candidate accused of paedophilia, who openly proclaimed America's greatest days date back to the age of slavery.
It was this special interest perception that, a few days ago, saw many black leaders boycott Trump's opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. For them, there could only be a hollow ring as the president eulogised the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers and hailed Martin Luther King as a 'man who I studied and watched and admired for my entire life'.
Only the night before his museum appearance, Trump had delivered a full-throated defence of the Alabama campaign of Moore, a white nationalist with a history of declaring that women have no place in public life. Apart from the accusations of historical sexual abuse involving teenage girls as young as 14, Moore is a religious fanatic twice sacked as the state's chief justice for refusing to separate church and state, as required by law. Significantly, despite his abandonment by many, Moore remained heavily supported by the conservative state's large evangelical population who champion Trump's Jerusalem policy in the belief that it is the passport to the 'rapture' (the transportation of 'true believers' to heaven).
But while Trump remains a prisoner of special interests, what are the chances of him actually enduing up in custody, for real, condemned and convicted of crimes against America? That's the question millions of Americans want answered, but it's not one they can expect to be answered anytime soon. Many legal experts and politicians, including some moderate Republicans, believe Robert Mueller and his team may well already have established a prima facie case of obstruction of justice against the president over the sacking of former FBI director James Comey. But that would be unlikely to end in the president's imprisonment, even if proven. For starters, it would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate to impeach POTUS and while the Upper House is controlled by the GOP that's highly-unlikely, especially with next year's finely-balanced mid-term elections looming. But that, of course, could change if the Democrats regained control and the Mueller probe were still continuing, which seems a distinct possibility.
Even then, it would be likely that a Democrat-controlled Capitol Hill would prefer to offer Trump some form of 'pardon' deal in which he vacated the White House in return for a guarantee of no criminal prosecution and, quite possibly, similar pardon deals for close associates.
But what if the Mueller probe turns up something still bigger than 'obstruction of justice'? Say it uncovers that – despite all the denials – there was direct, illicit collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to try and influence the election? What if there was a trail of direct knowledge traced back to Trump personally?
That, of course, would raise the 'T'-word, Treason. Ironically, it's a word The Donald tends to toss around liberally on Twitter and at rallies of the faithful, aimed at opponents. But treason is a very rare charge in the US for several reasons, notably that the Constitution requires something as extreme as seeking to start a civil war or overthrow the government by force or giving the nation's enemies 'aid and comfort'.
But will the Mueller investigation even last the course long enough to establish the truth, the depth and width of the Russian Connection? That's a question being asked increasingly as the president and his allies this week dramatically stepped up their attacks on the Special Counsel and his team.
Quite apart from Trump's personal Twitter rants, right wing Republican activists and the influential GOP conservative 'Freedom Caucus' bloc on Capitol Hill have launched a multi-front effort to discredit the Mueller probe as it digs deeper.
Concerned Democrat leaders, and many constitutional law experts, now fear they are seeing a concerted, carefully-planned overture aimed at ultimately justifying Mueller's firing and the abandonment of his investigation. Or, at the very least, get its findings kicked into the long grass.
Never mind getting Trump into a court room, there may be a fight ahead to keep the investigation going.