Trump’s options narrowing as investigations close in

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WASHINGTON, Aug 23, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – President Donald Trump is running out
of options to avoid possible impeachment or prevent his family from
prosecution, legal experts say.

The felony convictions of two former top aides Tuesday demonstrated that
Trump’s nonstop attacks have failed to impede Special Counsel Robert
Mueller’s Russia collusion and obstruction investigation against him.

And while no one knows how strong a case Mueller has built against the
president and his inner circle, Trump’s own behavior suggests he feels
intense pressure.

Experts say he has three basic strategic options, none of them good.

– Cooperate with Mueller –

Though he repeatedly says there was no crime committed, Trump has tried
disrupt and delay the investigation, and has avoided for months being
interviewed by Mueller.

That’s a bad strategy, if Trump truly has nothing to hide, says Eric
Freedman, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra University.

“He should absolutely adopt and embrace a policy of openness,” Freedman
says, a move which could buttress the White House campaign to tarnish
Mueller’s probe as a political “witch hunt.”

Doing so would require abandoning his support for former aides like Paul
Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman convicted Tuesday on tax and bank
fraud charges.

Trump could, however, justify that he is “draining the swamp” of Washington
corruption, argues Freedman, “wrapping himself in the mantle of good
governance.”

Robert Bennett, a veteran Washington criminal defense lawyer who worked for
president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, says it is too late for that.

“They decided a long time ago to attack the special counsel. It would be
hard now to do an about-face,” he told AFP. “Who is he going to turn on? He’s
at the top of the food chain.”

Moreover, cooperating now would almost certainly not change the direction
of Mueller’s probe, except possibly for the worse, said

Bennett, currently senior counsel at Schertler & Onorato, a Washington law
firm.

An interview with Mueller would be fraught with dangers for Trump, who
notoriously cannot stay on script. “He couldn’t truthfully cooperate without
further incriminating himself, is my guess,” Bennett said.

Cooperating could also force the president into a difficult position if, as
many think, his son Donald Trump Jr. or other family members fall into
Mueller’s sights.

What then? “Stall as long as possible and pardon him,” says Freedman.

– Attack and Buy Time –

Trump’s immediate hurdle is the November 6 election, in which Democrats are
threatening to take control of one or both houses of Congress. Trump needs to
prevent that, to avoid having a Congress that would support impeaching him.

His current strategy has been to convince voters that Mueller’s
investigation is an illegitimate, pro-Democrat operation, in hopes of
attracting support to Republicans. The effort appears to be having limited
success, polls suggest.

In addition, the White House is demanding Mueller abide by a Justice
Department policy for prosecutors not to take any action in the 60 days
before an election that would impact any candidate.

Michael German, formerly an FBI agent and now at the Brennan Center for
Justice, says the policy doesn’t prevent Mueller from pushing ahead.

“Law enforcement doesn’t stop every investigation 60 days before the
election,” German said. “I don’t see anyone in the November election that has
anything to do with those under investigation.”

Bennett says stalling tactics worked when he defended Clinton against Paula
Jones’ sexual harassment charges. The case threatened Clinton’s reelection
chances in 1996, and Bennett forced a procedural issue to the slow-working
Supreme Court to make the case disappear for months.

“My job was to get this Jones case out of daily media coverage,” he
recalled.

“We figured if we could get the Supreme Court to take the case, we were
assured this thing would have less impact on the 1996 election. That’s
exactly what happened. Ultimately we lost in the Supreme Court but he won the
election.”

If Trump, or someone in his family facing charges, could get their case
tied up in court over constitutional issues, it could take up to two years to
resolve, to the end of Trump’s term in office.

“No matter what the outcome, he’d probably be much better off,” Bennett
said.

– The Nuclear Option –

Or Trump could fire Mueller and shut down the investigation. He has
repeatedly threatened to do so, but has held back under warnings from
lawmakers that that could provoke impeachment.

The “nuclear option” didn’t help president Richard Nixon when he fired
Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in October 1973. That further
eroded support for Nixon, and Cox’s replacement pursued the case anyway,
until Nixon, nearly one year later, resigned in the face of certain
impeachment.

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