I think the time has come to step back from the daily frenzy of news and form some judgment of where things stand in the investigation of Trump, his campaign, and his administration. Mueller and his team are investigating four possible violations of law: a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his campaign to seek, abet, and receive illegal foreign assistance in the 2016 presidential campaign; criminal efforts by Trump and his administration to obstruct the lawful investigation of that conspiracy; criminal efforts by Trump and his family to use the office of the presidency for personal enrichment; and criminal efforts by Trump and his family to solicit foreign monies in return for specific official policy decisions of the United States. What do we now know about these investigations?
1. The criminal conspiracy is established by facts now public. The Russian government offered assistance of various sorts. Trump’s son welcomed the offer. The Russians provided the assistance. Trump publicly asked the Russians to provide additional assistance. The Russians did so. That by itself is enough to establish a conspiracy. In addition, the Trump campaign altered the Republican platform to conform to Russian interests. As President, Trump sought to shape official American sanctions policy to favor Russian interests, and for many months refused to enforce new sanctions voted overwhelmingly by the Congress and signed into law by Trump.
All of that is on the record.
2. The criminal effort to obstruct the investigation into the conspiracy has been confirmed by Trump’s public statements, first to Lester Holt on national television, then to Russian government officials in the Oval Office, on national Russian television.
3. There is a good deal of suggestive evidence of the efforts by Trump and his family to use the presidency for personal enrichment but until bank records are made public the evidence is not decisive.
4. There is a good deal of evidence, as yet not decisive, that Trump has sought to shape official U. S. policy in return for monies paid to Trump, to his company, and to his son-in-law.
That is what we now know, beyond doubt. In the vernacular current on cable news, Trump, his campaign, and his administration are guilty of collusion and obstruction at the very least. What will happen in the future? The future is notoriously difficult to predict in politics, so what follows are my speculations and gut instincts and should be considered as such.
1. Prior to the 2018 election, the Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress will do nothing to sanction Trump in any way, regardless of what further evidence emerges, up to and including video and audio evidence of Trump explicitly stating that he has engaged in a conspiracy, obstructed justice, enriched himself by the presidency, and sold US policy to foreign bidders.
2. If the Democrats take control of the House in the 2018 elections and impeach Trump, he will be tried in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding, and he will be found not guilty, regardless of the evidence presented. There is no way in the world that enough Republican senators will vote for conviction to bring the number to the constitutionally required two-thirds. Even though some may be tempted to swap out Trump for Pence, they will be fearful that an ousted Trump and an aroused phalanx of Trump supporters will cost them their seats in 2020. Trump will treat the failure to convict as a vote of confidence and will run for re-election in 2020 as an insurgent man of the people. He will be difficult, but not impossible, to beat, unless the Democrats run a centrist, in which case Trump will be re-elected.
3. If the Democrats take the House in November 2018, there will be two months between the election and the swearing in of the new House. During that time, Trump will abruptly emerge as a progressive Democrat. In return for not being impeached, he will offer to support stabilization and expansion of the Affordable Care Act, legalization of abortion on demand, imposition of a $15 an hour minimum wage, re-establishment of Obama era clean air regulations, increased taxes on the rich, nomination of liberal judges, and anything else the Democrats want. He will sign a DACA bill, drop his demand for a border wall, and do anything else Chuck Schumer wants. The Democrats will then be faced with a terrible choice: Either to pursue an impeachment process doomed to failure in the Senate and pin all their hopes on 2020, or take everything they want as public policy in return for legitimating and normalizing Trump.
That, in a nutshell, is where we are at, in my view.