With Paul Manafort’s plea-bargain with special prosecutor Robert Mueller, it appears that President Trump’s maneuvering room has shrunk significantly. In agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, Manafort has joined the ranks of Trump’s (sort-of) lawyer, his chief financial officer, and several others in deciding the personal cost of protecting Trump has grown too steep. In other words, there are now a plethora of people legally obligated to give Mueller whatever goods they might have – on Russia, tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign finance and wherever else Mueller’s team might be digging.
With the walls closing in, what are Trump’s options?
- With little left to lose, he might seek to fire Mueller NOW, or immediately after the midterms. Indeed, the slightness of Trump’s legal team (in size and expertise in these sorts of matters) suggests Trump was never going to let the investigation advance too far;
- Pardon himself and use the ensuing legal battle to ride out his last two years in office;
- Go “Full Nixon” and offer to resign to avoid criminal indictment or impeachment;
- Double down with the true believers in the hopes that it will be enough to avoid conviction in a Senate trial;
- Abandon the base and sidle up to Schumer and Pelosi in the hopes that his cooperation on issues dear to Democrats will make them favor him over his vice president;
- Call Putin and ask for asylum, and a chance to build his long yearned for Moscow Hotel;
- Ask Pence to resign, appoint Hillary Clinton as VP and then resign;
- Hold out as long as possible while raising as much money as possible for his re-election campaign, then resign and transfer the $80 million + to his charity (or, if regulators shut it down first, to a new one he controls); or
- Some combination of all of the above.
In other words, Trump’s options are as confusing as he and his Presidency have been.
Deep down, what Trump really wants is to emerge with his reputation – as he sees it – for sincerity, honesty and good intentions INTACT. That is, obviously, impossible and beyond his psychological capabilities in any event.
He also wants very much to be seen as the brilliant, VERY RICH deal maker beyond the reach of the law for anything he has ever done. No tax returns ever. No financial statements ever. No apologies ever.
All this presents him and his advisors with a tough agenda going into end game thinking.
In all likelihood the end game may be more confusing than the preliminary rounds we have been watching all along!!