Trump scrambles to bolster legal team as aides fear 'winter is coming' if Democrats retake House

'Mr Trump faces a potential perfect storm of legal assaults in the coming year'

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Thursday 30 August 2018 17:31
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Rudy Giuliani: The American people 'would revolt' if Trump was impeached

The White House is scrambling to bolster its legal resources amid fears Donald Trump has failed to appreciate the potential peril he faces if Democrats retake control of the House and trigger impeachment proceedings. One supporter said officials feared that “winter is coming”.

With Mr Trump announcing this week that White House counsel Don McGahn will leave once the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, reports suggest the outgoing lawyer wants Emmet Flood to replace him. Mr Flood who worked previously for George W Bush, and, crucially, for Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment hearings, was hired by the White House this spring.

Mr Trump’s lead lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told Time that Mr Flood would be a good choice and the two men had an excellent relationship. “From the very beginning they sort of hit it off,” he said.

But reports suggest that Mr Trump is failing to adequately prepare a legal war room ahead of several months that could bring very bad news for him. The president, both in public and reportedly in private, believes that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion with Russia will clear him.

While Mr Trump and his allies have been very active in leading a pre-emptive public relations battle against Mr Mueller, calling the process a “witch hunt” and saying the system is rigged, some of aides say they fear he has no strategy if Mr Mueller were to deliver a finding that somehow faulted the president.

Reports suggest Mr Trump is also not preparing adequately for the possibility that the Republicans could lose control of the house in the November midterms, something that could see impeachment proceedings start against him. While Mr Trump’s nationwide approval rating is relatively high compared to other stages of his presidency – Rasmussen Reports recently put his national approval rating at 46, with 53 disapproving – most analysts believe the Democrats are more likely to seize control of the house than Republican are to hold it.

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The Democrats have a tougher fight to win control of the senate, but they need to flip just 23 seats to take control of the house. The election modelling overseen at the University of Virginia by Larry Sabato currently lists 42 of the 435 nationwide contests as a “toss up”, a place where either party could win.

While minority leader Nancy Pelosi has for tactical reasons, not talked up the prospect of launching impeachment proceedings against the president, fearing it could hurt the Democrats in the November polls, it is likely she, or whoever became Speaker in a Democratic-controlled house, would be under intense pressure to consider it.

At the very least, House committees, then with Democratic chairpersons, would likely launch a raft of hearings into Mr Trumps’ actions and alleged conflicts of interest. Doing so would utterly tie up the administration.

“Mr Trump faces a potential perfect storm of legal assaults in the coming year,” Bradley Moss, a Washington-based national security lawyer, told The Independent. “He already faces the prospect of dealing with the political and legal fallout of Mr Mueller’s ultimate conclusions about possible Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.

“He also is facing possible complicity in the ongoing criminal probe into campaign finance violations that has already resulted in a guilty plea by his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, as well as several personal civil lawsuits tied to his businesses and alleged defamation of female accusers.”

He added: “If the Democrats retake one or both bodies of Congress, however, he’ll have to contend with a wave of Congressional subpoenas and hearings about not only the limited issues of collusion and obstruction but also issues such as the travel ban, the separation of children from parents, and how he has used the office of the president to arguably improve his business’ bottom line.”

On Thursday, The Washington Post said Mr Trump’s advisers and allies were “increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House”.

It added: “Within Trump’s orbit, there is consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands, and there has been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white-collar defence and political scandals.”

“Winter is coming,” one Trump ally told the newspaper. “Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege.”

Mr Trump’s legal actions are not limited to Mr Mueller’s probe and the threat of losing the House. Earlier this month, two of Mr Trump’s former allies – campaign manager Paul Manafort and lawyer Michael Cohen – were either found guilty or pleaded guilty to a serious federal charges.

In the case of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, the lawyer told a court that Mr Trump had ordered him to pay hush money to adult actress Stormy Daniels, with whom is said to have had a brief sexual relationship, on the eve of the election.

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