On 3 January the newly elected Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives will come into force.
Is there a constitutional crisis looming on 4 January? Or a couple of weeks thereafter at the latest?
I hope not. An America in crisis spells an America enfeebled and consequently a NATO weakened.
And NATO is the sole guarantor of our liberties, threatened by variously evil empires. That’s how it has been since 1949, and that’s how it’ll remain – or nothing will remain at all.
The classicists among you will notice that I’m paraphrasing the stout aphorism of the great Jesuit Matteo Ricci (d. 1610): “Simus, ut sumus, aut non simus” (“We shall remain as we are or we shall not remain at all”).
Fr Ricci displayed prophetic prescience in anticipating the role NATO plays in European security – and also the idiocy of a pan-European army as a possible alternative.
Lacking Fr Ricci’s foresight and remembering Cassandra’s fate, I refuse to make any predictions. Guesses, however, are a different matter, provided they’re reasonably educated.
First the indisputable facts, all relating to the Mueller investigation.
Four of Trump’s most senior associates have pleaded guilty to assorted crimes, most of them related to illegal dealings with Putin’s Russia.
Threatened with long prison stints, they’ve all cut deals with the prosecution. That means they’ve been baring their souls to Mueller for several months.
However, none of their revelations have so far been made public. Why has Mueller been so reticent?
Granted, he’s institutionally obligated to submit his findings to the Attorney General, not to The New York Times. But come on now, we’re all grown-ups here. We live at a time of inexplicable leaks, with the press getting a whiff of explosive information through unauthorised channels.
Mueller has a large staff, covering many tiers in the ‘G’ structure of federal employment. Since possible findings may include some with the megaton yield of Watergate proportions, newspapers would pay sticker price for any sensational leak. Millions, if need be.
Anyone who insists that not a single person working for Mueller could be seduced by an offer of secure retirement presumes way too much on human goodness. So why has the Mueller investigation gone mute?
Of course one possibility is that it has uncovered nothing worth leaking. But that’s unlikely.
Men like Manafort and Flynn were privy to every secret of the Trump campaign, including its dealings with Putin. Actually, these two in particular were the principal intermediaries in such dealings.
Now it’s not only unlikely but impossible that systematic contacts between a man not overburdened with scruples and a regime closely resembling an extended Mafia family escaped a touch of dirt somewhere along the line.
It might have been a bit of fiscal mud sticking to the shoe sole or a dumper truck tipping its load of collusion manure all over the man, but there was some dirt – guaranteed.
You know it, I know it – above all, Trump knows it. For ever since allegations of collusion with the Putin gang surfaced, Trump has been acting as a man with something to hide.
He tried to make Attorney General Jeff Sessions shut the Mueller investigation down. When Sessions refused, he got into the president’s bad books. Tellingly, he was then sacked the day after the Democrats won their majority in the House.
Clearly Trump senses a dog fight ahead, and he wants a pit bull in his corner, not a poodle. Sessions was only a minor annoyance when the Republicans controlled both Houses. Once they lost the lower one, he became an unaffordable liability.
Trump has the power to fire Mueller without any help from Justice, but he may remember what happened to Nixon after he sacked Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox.
“Impeach the Cox sacker”, screamed NY bumper stickers, much to my mirth (and pride at being able to understand such puns just off the proverbial boat). Less than a year later Nixon was gone.
So far Trump has had to content himself with firing Sessions, just as earlier he got rid of FBI Director James Comey, who instigated the Mueller inquiry.
Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s replacement, has publicly denounced the Mueller investigation, which makes him a perfect choice for the time when the Trump administration goes to the mattresses.
Thus, when Mueller submits his findings to the new AG, the latter will have the constitutional power to redact them, or even suppress them altogether. However, with the Democrats holding a House majority and presiding over all the key committees, they too have the power to fight back.
For example, they may call for a public inquiry and, if they wish, subpoena the entire population of Washington, DC, including the president himself.
A man with nothing to hide would welcome such an investigation because his name would be scrubbed a pristine white as a result. However, when a man uses every means at his disposal to shut the investigation down, his conscience can’t be impeccably spotless.
Yet the question remains: why have we not heard anything from Mueller since the potential jailbirds began singing under oath? Here we have to rely on conjecture.
I dread the possibility that Mueller and whoever is behind his investigation are sitting on explosive findings in anticipation of the Democrats taking control of the House. They may want to drop their bomb only when they know they won’t miss.
The Democrats take over on 3 January. Unless I miss my guess, the next day Mueller will submit his report to the Attorney General, who won’t release it to the public if there’s anything incriminating there.
A public inquiry will follow, and within a few weeks America may find herself embroiled in Watergate Mark II. I dread this possibility, and not just because this would make NATO vulnerable.
For, much as I find Trump personally hideous, most of his policies reflect a statesman’s mind and courage. A US president doesn’t have to be erudite, well-mannered, well-dressed and intellectual. He has to be effective, and Trump certainly is that.
He has already shown that, on balance, he’s a good president, certainly better than any of his post-Watergate predecessors, with the possible exception of Reagan. In time he may become a great president, which would benefit us all.
However, if his romance with Putin ever went beyond foreplay, none of that matters. Impeachment would be too mild a punishment. Flailing alive would be more fitting, although I don’t think US jurisprudence provides for this option.
Let’s wait and see – with our hands over our hearts, as if trying to contain the frenetic beats. I do hope America will remain at peace two months from now.