2018: Russia inquiry will be the thorn in Trump's side

2018: Russia inquiry will be the thorn in Trump's side
Comment: 2018 will be the the year the going gets tough for President Trump, writes Imad K. Harb.
5 min read
06 Jan, 2018
Trump departs for Camp David where he is scheduled to spend the weekend [Getty]
2018 is already shaping up to be an unhappy year for US President Donald Trump. Fighting as he is on a number of domestic fronts, he is unlikely to find a political environment hospitable to him or his administration.

The most visible and consequential crisis facing his administration will be that resulting from the continuing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In fact, the investigations were the most politically laden and legally charged affairs in American politics in 2017. As the president tried to implement what he promised would be a different method of governing, he continued to face the daunting task of asserting his electoral and political legitimacy.

And as the year came to a close, he was found to concentrate almost solely on defending himself against accusations that he colluded with Russia to influence those elections.

Throughout 2017 also, he attempted to subvert the investigations, and on many occasions cast aspersions on American intelligence agencies that originally discovered Russia's interference. But his efforts, as well as those of his staff and Republican members of Congress, came to naught.

Indeed, the investigations have continued unabated into the new year, taking on new drama with release of a book by Michael Wolff, in which Steve Bannon describes Jared Kushner's meeting with a group of Russians during the election campaign as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic"

In addition to the stark, almost daily media revelations, four investigations are afoot. Independent counsel Robert Mueller's is the most vigorous and extensive; but there are two others in the United States Senate and one in the House of Representatives.

In addition to the stark, almost daily media revelations, four investigations are afoot

The Republican efforts to kill the House inquiry and dismiss Mr Mueller because of supposed bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have also been stymied. They recently were made more difficult when the New York Times published a report revealing very early campaign contacts with Russian authorities.

The report detailed how a low-level foreign policy advisor to then-candidate Trump, George Papadopoulos, revealed to an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had incriminating information on Trump's rival Hilary Clinton.

Papadopoulos has been indicted by Mueller for lying to the FBI when he was questioned. Today, he is a star witness in the investigation and is said to be fully cooperating with the inquiry.

That he did not tell the campaign about the Clinton treasure trove is farfetched and unbelievable. No one, including the White House, knows what he has told the investigators.

Read more: 'We've put our man on top': Trump on Mohammed bin Salman in Wolff's bombshell book

Former campaign surrogate and National Security Advisor during the first three weeks of the Trump Administration, Michael Flynn, is also cooperating with Mr Mueller. He was at the heart of the campaign throughout 2016 and knows its intimate details.

Trumps campaign manager until after the Republican Convention in July 2016, Paul Manafort, has been indicted and is awaiting trial for lying to the FBI. He knew many friends and acquaintances close to Russia and must have important information about purported contacts with the campaign.

Even Trump's son, Donald Jr, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner have been involved in meetings with Russian surrogates about the Clinton information and failed to inform the FBI. Their admission to have met with Russian operators came only after leaks to the media exposed email messages and information they did not voluntarily offer.

The president himself is also accused of obstructing justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, tweeted his support for Flynn despite his lying, and attacked Mueller's investigation.

True to his credible reputation, Mr Mueller has remained quiet about what he knows. But he is said to have subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents and interviewed an unknown number of witnesses.

His strategy appears to be succeeding in breaking open arguably the most consequential case of foreign sabotage against the American political system. From what has been made public through the media, he may have the incriminating evidence to prosecute the alleged Russia-Trump collusion.

But even if Mueller's investigation, or the others in the Senate and the House, do not come to an early judgment, they are sure to stymie Trump's agenda for the year ahead.

The president's erratic behaviour, his ignorance of basic principles of governance, and his xenophobic rhetoric have alienated a majority of Americans

The United States is set to hold its mid-term elections in November for all 435 members of the House and 33 members, one-third, of the Senate. Given the political environment in the country, the Democrats have a good shot at taking control of both chambers.

Possibilities of cooperation with the Democrats on a supposed infrastructure legislation are close to non-existent. The $1.5 trillion tax cut that Trump and congressional Republicans enacted in 2017 is skewed heavily toward the super-rich and lacks public support.

Finally, the president's erratic behaviour, his ignorance of basic principles of governance, and his xenophobic rhetoric have alienated a majority of Americans, who may find that 2018 is the year to deprive the president of any political achievement.

Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.