Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.
It’s easy to understand why President Donald Trump is tweeting so frantically, slapping away at the shadows that encircle him ever more closely. The events of Tuesday alone add even more tension to the President and the country’s ongoing drama.
The day started with a flurry of presidential tweets, including one that sounded like a show of support and/or an effort by Trump to influence his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was headed to court for what was supposed to be his sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. “Good luck today in court,” Trump wrote to Flynn, adding, “will be interesting to see what he has to say. …”
But it was Judge Emmet Sullivan who had the most interesting things to say. Prosecutors had asked for Flynn to be spared prison time because he helped with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But the judge seemed sickened by what Flynn did. “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” he told Flynn. Sullivan, who had been praised by Trump supporters, such as Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, was implacable. Sullivan walked back his question of whether Flynn had committed treason but noted that “a high-ranking official of the government” making false statements in the White House is a “very serious offense.”
That brings to mind another high-ranking official who has made false statements while in the White House: the President. In the end, the sentencing was postponed, allowing Flynn to help prosecutors even more as they work to tighten their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Meanwhile, America was hit with another splash of news about possible corruption by Trump and company. The Donald J. Trump Foundation, the President’s purported charitable vehicle, agreed to shut down as part of an investigation by New York state. The agreement allows a lawsuit against the foundation to move forward, claiming, among other things, that Trump and three of his children violated campaign finance laws, and casting an indelible stain on the President. Trump has denied these allegations.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood wrote of “a shocking pattern of illegality” at the foundation, “including unlawful coordination” with Trump’s campaign. The foundation, she said, functioned as “little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his business to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.” Incredibly, this damning conclusion is the least of the Trumps’ problems.
It’s hardly surprising that the walls are closing in around the President. What is mind-boggling is just how many walls are coming in at him from every imaginable angle.
We don’t know precisely what Flynn, who among other things lied about meetings with Russian officials, told investigators. But we know that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to committing a felony in coordination with the President (Individual-1) and revealed that Trump was negotiating with Russia about building a Trump Tower Moscow. Thanks to Trump’s current lawyer, a hapless Rudy Giuliani, we know the negotiations might have continued all the way to November 2016.
Is that the stench of collusion in the air? A key question is whether Trump knowingly offered to lift US sanctions against Russia in exchange for the Kremlin’s favors. There is evidence that sanctions were discussed in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. If Mueller provides evidence that Trump offered to void the sanctions in exchange for help winning the elections, the special counsel can rest his case.
On Monday, we saw more mountains of evidence of how the Russians worked to help Trump win the election – as if we needed more. (We also saw evidence that Russia is still entrenched in US social media networks.)
And those were just some of the walls threatening to suffocate the presidency. In January, US Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee, plans to plunge into Trump’s finances and other activities. Earlier this month, Schiff said Trump could face “the real prospect of jail time.”
But there’s more, much more. If Trump’s early-morning Flynn tweet sounded like an attempt at obstruction of justice, it’s because it echoes his other online comments that some legal experts say amount to illegal witness tampering. Some have also suggested that Trump engaged in an attempt to obstruct justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey that initially led to Mueller’s appointment.
Comey, by the way, managed to get under Trump’s skin again this week, prompting a controversial tweet by press secretary Sarah Sanders after the former FBI director chastised Republicans for failing to challenge Trump’s lies. After testifying in Congress, Comey called on Republicans to “have the courage to stand up and speak the truth, not be cowed by mean tweets or fear of their base.”
Republicans will have to make a decision soon, because Trump’s troubles are becoming heavier by the day. The list of indictments, guilty pleas and investigations seems to keep growing – and it’s not just the Mueller investigation, which Trump so urgently seeks to discredit.
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Among the walls casting a darkening shadow on him is the emoluments lawsuit by attorneys general from Maryland and the District of Columbia. They allege the President has violated the Constitution by accepting “emoluments,” payments or favors from foreign governments. The continuing operations of Trump properties, particularly Trump International Hotel in Washington, is drawing increased attention. The Washington Post recently revealed, for example, that Saud-funded lobbyists booked rooms for about 500 nights in the hotel shortly after Trump was elected.
The number of cases of potential malfeasance that could involve Trump, his businesses and his presidency is without precedent. There are so many that even if the special counsel falters, Trump’s troubles will likely not be over.
With Cabinet members leaving his administration under ethical clouds, there is no question that the man in the Oval Office is not drawn to individuals with high ethical standards. Trump’s track record shows he is hardly a model law-abiding citizen. The conclusion of any of these investigations will probably not be good for the President. Those shadows closing in on him are the walls, already tumbling down on his presidency.