Owing to a government shutdown and a rare snowstorm, downtown Washington has looked empty the past few days. It’s quiet; the mood is sombre.
Suspicious minds might even detect an air of foreboding.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s travesties, people lower their heads and grumble. Given that the District of Columbia is heavily Democratic, there’s consolation for many in that he is failing. But it’s a matter of pride, their pride as Americans being diminished by this President.
A Republican oasis near the White House is the Trump Hotel. I drop in occasionally for a cocktail – Manhattans are a mere US$24! – to get a sense of the Grand Old Party’s mood. It’s often more upbeat than you might expect. Not this week, though: The only smiles were on the faces of the service people, almost all of whom are African-American. Asked about Mr. Trump, one of them responded, “Ain’t gonna survive.”
At the bar in the hotel’s enormous atrium, the TV screens were tuned, of course, to Fox News. But even the Fox talking heads spoke in grim tones. Polling numbers showed their hero was getting far more blame for the government shutdown than the Democrats.
Worse was the latest news on the story that never goes away: The Russian-collusion drama had reached yet another fever pitch. The word was out, although not verified, that the long-feared report from special counsel Robert Mueller would appear next month. The New York Times and Washington Post were again breaking stories damaging to the President.
A less-noticed item was tucked away in a story in Vanity Fair. It said that Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, believed the Mueller report was going to be “horrific.” This was according to a person privy to a Giuliani conversation with a friend. “You’re already hearing people speculate Trump could do a deal and resign,” this source added.
Mr. Giuliani wouldn’t comment. The anecdote was second-hand, lacking in corroboration. But the way things are going, it would hardly be a shocker if what he said were true – and Vice-President Mike Pence becomes the new Gerald Ford, elevated after a stunning scandal in the executive branch.
The story that had the capital all worked up was an overjacked Times report that the FBI had opened an investigation into whether Mr. Trump was working at the behest of (read: colluding with) the Russians in early 2017. It was already reported that the FBI was probing Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice. It was already reported that it began an investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign team on Russian collusion in mid-2016. And it was already suspected that the FBI was out to get Mr. Trump given his treatment of the agency. But while hardly surprising, the Times story did raise the level of alarm about the President’s deeds.
The Post’s own revelation – that Mr. Trump wanted the contents of his talks with Vladimir Putin kept secret – only made the sirens blare louder. In meetings with the Russian leader at five different locations over the past two years, Mr. Trump had gone so far as to keep even his top advisers in the dark.
It’s yet another indicator that Mr. Trump has something big to hide. The Mueller probe has found that at least 16 Trump associates had political contacts with Russians. According to the Moscow Project, a liberal group exploring the GOP’s Kremlin ties, there were 101 contacts with Russian operatives that the Trump team tried to keep under wraps.
That Russian interference in the American election was abetted by Mr. Trump and/or members of his team has become more credible than not. The number of times Mr. Trump has done Mr. Putin’s bidding – on Syria, Ukraine, the European Union, at the Helsinki summit and many more – is beyond the pale.
The Trump business empire, it need be recalled, has used Russian sources for financing. “We don’t rely on American banks,” Mr. Trump’s third child, Eric, said in 2014. "We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
Just how serious the situation has become can be seen in the fences being put up by the White House to respond to the Mueller report. Mr. Trump’s recently arrived White House counsel Pat Cipollone has hired 17 lawyers.
With its broad mandate, the meticulous Mueller probe could wind up nailing Mr. Trump on all fronts. On collusion. On obstruction of justice. On money laundering.
If Mr. Giuliani has been telling people the report will be horrific, small wonder.