'Year of siege warfare ahead' as Democrats pursue Trump on 'hush money'
Senior Democrats began talking openly yesterday about the imprisonment or impeachment of Donald Trump, amid fresh allegations linking the US president to hush money paid to two women ahead of the 2016 election.
The result is a growing sense of crisis as Republicans begin to weigh their chances of political survival.
Ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon said 2019 was shaping up to be a year of "siege warfare". "The Democrats are going to weaponise the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses," he told the 'Washington Post'. "The president can't trust the GOP to be there when it counts."
It comes as President Trump said Saturday that chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job by year's end amid an expected reshuffling, reflecting a focus on the 2020 re-election campaign. Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, is Trump's top choice to replace Kelly.
The latest twist in the hush money allegations came in new court documents that stated Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, had acted at the direction of his employer in arranging the payments.
"They would be impeachable offences. Whether they're important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question," Jerry Nadler, a Democratic congressman from New York, said on CNN's 'State of the Union'. "Even though they were committed before Trump became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office."
His comments highlight the fresh legal and political jeopardy facing Mr Trump, who has spent his entire term under the shadow of a wide-ranging investigation into whether his campaign team colluded with Moscow. Republicans believe the reach of Robert Mueller's federal probe could consume the rest of the party. A sentencing memo filed by prosecutors in New York on Friday against Mr Cohen raised the stakes.
"In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in co-ordination with and at the direction of Individual-1," it said, using the term prosecutors have deployed to refer to the president.
It is the first time investigators have said they believed Mr Cohen acted with Mr Trump to silence two women who said they had affairs with him.
Mr Trump has denied the affairs and any role in the payments. Yesterday, he issued two tweets dismissing the evidence against him.
Although most legal analysts believe a sitting president cannot be indicted, Adam Schiff, who will head the House intelligence committee when a new term begins in January, said that would not protect him once his term ends.
Democrats hold sway in the House of Representatives, after capturing 40 seats in last month's midterms, and can use their power to launch fresh investigations when their new term begins. (© Daily Telegraph, London)