Donald Trump’s presidency may have started on what appears fated to be a long, slow march towards implosion. It is a journey without precedent, and one with enormous consequences for the world. This week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible Russian aid to Trump’s election campaign led to criminal proceedings against three of the president’s closest aides — former campaign chair Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. The president himself isn’t on the firing line: The charges against Manafort and Gates relate to consulting work they did in Ukraine before they joined the Trump campaign, while Papadopoulos, who has admitted his guilt, is alleged to have lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians during the campaign. Papadopoulos, in particular, is said to have told Trump that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” at a meeting around April 26, 2016, months before the Russian hack of the Democratic Party’s emails became publicly known. At worst, though, the charges so far only show Trump’s team included three individuals who had illegal contacts with foreign regimes — not that the President or his inner circle colluded to receive information on former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s campaign.
Yet, the US media is reporting that the president is near-apoplectic, and the White House panicked. Hawks in Trump’s circle are reported to be inclined to fire Robert Gates, just as he sacked former FBI chief James Comey, thus precipitating the special investigation. Robert Mueller’s strategy appears to be to build iron-clad cases against relatively junior aides, who might agree to give evidence against their bosses in return for lighter sentences, or immunity from prosecution. But even if no evidence is found against Trump himself, there is growing speculation the presidency simply cannot survive the political damage of Mullers’ investigation — the charges, after all, confirm potentially treasonous conduct by members of his election campaign. As the cases pile up, the White House fears, even Republicans will be forced to support impeachment proceedings, just as they did against President Robert Nixon after the Watergate scandal.
This much is now clear. For the rest of his time in office, howsoever long it might be, Trump is likely to be engaged in fighting off the fallout from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump may have neither the will nor legitimacy to pursue the many challenges the US faces. Indeed, there is a real risk the president may engage in high-risk overseas, in an effort to rally his constituency and derail his domestic critics. A showdown with Iran or North Korea is a possibility the international community should prepare itself for.