Thursday 19 September 2019

Held to account by Congress as prosecutors close in, the president's power is waning

 

Under pressure: US president Donald Trump is dealing with a raft of controversies. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Under pressure: US president Donald Trump is dealing with a raft of controversies. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Jennifer Rubin

Three new developments underscore that US President Donald Trump's power, like sand through an hourglass, is steadily falling. All of the usual tricks - distraction, lying, photo ops - will not reverse the downward trend.

Perhaps the worst blow yet to Mr Trump occurred in a federal courtroom. In advance of his sentencing hearing, former national security adviser Michael Flynn suggested that US District Judge Emmet Sullivan take into account the fact that he was not specifically told of the obligation to tell the truth.

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The judge was infuriated, noting that Flynn already pleaded guilty to deliberately giving false answers to the FBI agents investigating his contacts with Russia.

The judge let him have it, as the 'Washington Post' reports: "Flynn's attorneys asked for [a] delay after Judge Emmet Sullivan accused Flynn of acting as 'an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States' - an allegation he later took back.

"Sullivan granted the request and asked for a status report in 90 days, though he said he was 'not making any promises' that he would view the matter differently in three months. Sullivan also asked a prosecutor with the special counsel's office whether Flynn could be charged with 'treason'."

The judge postponed the sentencing, leaving the distinct possibility that Flynn could face jail time. The turn of events decimated the notion that Mr Trump's associates' crimes are small beans.

That wasn't the only calamity of the day. Mr Trump is in the process of folding on his border wall, for which he lacks political support.

His press secretary declared: "We don't want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border." Her boss had said otherwise.

Sarah Sanders insisted the money could be found elsewhere. That's a fairy tale aides or Congress might tell Trump, or he might tell himself.

He cannot just do it. He needs Congress to authorise money that can be spent on his signature project. He cannot force them to do so. Likely House speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called his bluff. He blinked. He will not get the one specific item he vowed to deliver for his rabid anti-immigrant base. This is what losing looks like.

There was also bad news for Mr Trump from the New York state attorney general.

The 'Post' reports: "President Trump has agreed to shut down his embattled personal charity and to give away its remaining money amid allegations that he used the foundation for his personal and political benefit, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced.

"Underwood said that the Donald J Trump Foundation is dissolving as her office pursues its lawsuit against the charity, Trump and his three eldest children.

"The suit, filed in June, alleged 'persistently illegal conduct' at the foundation and sought to have it shut down.

"Underwood said her investigation found 'a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation - including unlawful co-ordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and wilful self-dealing, and much more'."

By agreeing to close the foundation, Mr Trump seems to give credence to Ms Underwood's allegations.

The existence of an illegal slush fund would knock out most politicians. With Mr Trump, it is one more instance of contempt for the law and assertion of personal interests over public obligations.

In sum, we saw just how little power Mr Trump has over events. The prosecutors are closing in, his finances are being scrutinised, and he can't even tell his base he delivered on the wall.

Never has he looked so small and so weak.

© Washington Post

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