James Comey, Russia and a ‘smoking gun’: A look at the US President Trump’s current problems
As US President Donald Trump sprinted past the 100-day benchmark, he has been hit by a series of controversies. Here’s a look at his current woes.Updated: May 17, 2017 12:09 IST
Devastating news for Donald Trump continued to accumulate on Tuesday night, as reports emerged of a memorandum indicating that Trump had pressured former FBI director James Comey to give up part of a multi-pronged investigation into alleged ties between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign.
Democrats called the memo a “smoking gun” and said “history is watching” how Congress acts, while even Republicans expressed concern and called on the White House to explain the memo beyond its original broad denial.
The episode capped weeks of serial bad headlines for Trump, beginning just after he sprinted past the 100-day benchmark with declarations that his administration was the most accomplished ever.
Here’s a roundup of Trump’s current top woes:
Comey and alleged obstruction
This is the biggest woe at the moment, with the greatest potential, it seems , to end Trump’s presidency prematurely. Trump’s firing of Comey on 9 May was a scandal in itself, with the president ultimately admitting that he had fired Comey with “this Russia thing” on his mind. Many critics took that to be an admission by Trump of an obstruction of justice, a criminal charge that both presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon faced in impeachment proceedings .
In the new memo to have emerged, Trump asks Comey to “let this go”, in reference to the FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denied that Trump had ever made such a request.
Stalled healthcare reform
While espionage stories and staff chaos have dominated coverage of the White House in recent weeks, Trump faces a more constant, background hazard of failing to deliver on domestic promises such as healthcare reform. Threadbare reform legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on 4 May, but a Senate effort to craft its own version of a bill has stalled. The perception of scandal around Trump may make legislators even less likely to stretch to pass a bill for him to sign.
Stalled efforts on tax reform and ‘the wall’
Two more key domestic promises that Trump has so far dramatically under-delivered on. Trump supporters are demanding that he push tax cuts through, but efforts to craft a bill, as with healthcare reform, have been hampered by the constant and distracting buzz of intrigue around the White House. Funding for Trump’s envisioned border wall with Mexico, meanwhile, was omitted from a budget deal struck last month on Capitol Hill.
Russian Oval Office scandal
As recently as Monday night, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz judged this to be “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States”. Trump is accused by unnamed intelligence officials of spilling highly classified information to Russian diplomats during an Oval Office meeting – information the officials said could put lives at risk and further derail US strategy in the Middle East. The White House has said Trump’s conversation with the Russians were “wholly appropriate”.
Four solid months of crisis have taken a toll on the Trump team, with reporters hearing yelling matches break out behind closed doors at the White House and harvesting increasingly dark descriptions of the president’s private mood. There is a lot of buzz about a possible staff shakeup, one that could perhaps affect press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon or others.
Two congressional committees are conducting their own investigations of ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, and the FBI or other intelligence agencies may have unknown investigations of the presidency or presidential campaign under way.
Perilous trip abroad
On Friday, Trump embarks on a world tour that will take him from Riyadh, where he is scheduled to deliver a speech reportedly discussing Islam; to Jerusalem, where he is scheduled to become the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall; to the Vatican, where he is expected to meet the pope. Trump is said to not be looking forward to the trip.
The question mark/X factor
The greatest woe facing Trump may be hidden at the moment. His decision not to divest from his companies has created numerous potential conflicts of interest that could in turn have consequences for his ability to govern. He has alienated large swathes of the US intelligence community, who collectively may have to power to precipitate future scandals. And he still has his Twitter login.
First Published: May 17, 2017 12:08 IST