(UPDATE: Here's right-this-moment-breaking news about Trump's increasing legal peril: D.C., Maryland to sue Trump over foreign payments to his businesses. The DAs in these two entities are suing on the basis that Trump is violating the Constitutional prohibition on federal officials taking any kind of payments ("emoluments") from foreign governments. In this case the payments are for hotel stays by foreign officials at Trump facilities. Excellent discussion of the issue of "standing".)
How deep in jeopardy is Trump? "The water's five feet and rising, Pa," the old song said, "But the damn fool says to press on."
In Trump's situation the rising water is hot because it can mean serving prison time. Prison for Trump is preferable to impeachment because:
(1) Unlike impeachment, criminal prosecution is not in the control of the GOP Congress and can't be blocked by partisan blindness.
(2) Trump's been a scoff-law all his life or at least "a twister" who boasts of wiggling around the law. Jail time will tell the world and our children that our laws mean something.
(3) The evidence supporting a criminal conviction would have to be so compelling that even Trump supporters might finally see him for what he really is.
(4) Trump deserves punishment. He is a cruel and vindictive man who has caused terrible suffering to immigrants and others, has cancelled worker safety laws, and has imperiled our planet.
So how does Trump get sent to prison? As the poet said, "Let me count the ways....."
1.Obstruction of justice?: This is everybody's nit-picky topic right now as they explore the weeds, i.e. whether Trump's saying "I hope" to James Comey constitutes giving an order and thus shows Trump intended to obstruct the FBI investigation of Trump aide Michael Flynn and/or possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russians in messing with our 2016 election. That's a complicated sentence because weed-searches tend to be complicated.
Give me a break! The topic is not complicated. On TV Trump boastfully told NBC's Lester Holt his intent and also told the Russians what he did and why. Thus the meaning of "hope" is irrelevant because Trump has publicly confessed to the required intent.
Further, Comey virtually assured the Senate committee last week that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will investigate this possible crime. Comey saying so makes it certain Mueller will.
If Mueller, however, does find an indictable offense, Trump can't go to jail for what he did as president, impeachment traditionally being the sole allowable remedy against a president for crimes commited while in office. Given that Mueller can't indict Trump, he may just skip the obstruction issue and go right for the biggies, such as.....
2. Trump's financial crimes: These are stunning in number and brazenness but get little press. One of the most criminal and complex is described in the "New Yorker" at Donald Trump's Worst Deal. In a subsequent "New Yorker" article, Your Questions About "Donald Trump's Worst Deal," Answered ..., the author of the original article discusses the likelihood of prosecution for the apparent Trump crimes he described in the first article.
He has done a spectacularly good job of investigative reporting, on a par with the "New Yorker" coup of revealing the American torture of Iraqui captives at Abu Ghraib prison.Torture at Abu Ghraib - The New Yorker. misses a few points, namely that Trump apparently violated not only the Foreign Campaign Practices Act but possibly the sanctions against dealing with Iran and also various federal racketeering and money-laundering laws. All these carry prison time.
The activities referred to above are just the tip of the iceberg: Trump and family apparently routinely engage in bent financial activity. Will Mueller go after it all? And is he able to unwind some very deliberately complex deals.
I don't know how many he will tackle but it sure seems he is well-equipped to unravel any financial complexities. The FBI has always been good at sniffing out the money. Remember that their first big leap to prominence came with the jailing of mobster/murderer Al Capone for income tax fraud.
It's no surprise therefore that Mueller has muscled up with some of the best in law enforcement. He has now hired the former FBI agent who broke the backs of not just one top New York mafia family but their arch-rivals as well. Mueller has similarly hired other prosecutors, several with big reputations for busting white-collar crime.
3. Trump's Failure to Get Real Legal Help: This may be the biggest factor in whether Trump goes to jail. He has this past week hired his own long-time New York lawyer to help him now as his private attorney. (White House counsel represent only the presidency, not the president in his personal life.) The NY attorney is woefully inadequate for the job, being ignorant of D.C. and the relevant law and legal hurdles. His response this week to Comey's testimony has already showed his inadequacy. In fact, he attacked Comey this past week in a way that may constitute unlawful intimidation of a witness. (See discussion below at Item 5.) Looks like Trump's lawyer may soon need his own lawyer!
Pitiful as Trump's current lawyer is, Trump reportedly can't do much better. A number of top firms have turned him down, including the attorney who represented George W in the fight over the Florida vote count in 2000. Trump's reputation has spread that (a) he's a client you can't control and (b) he doesn't pay his attorney bills. No attorney of any status wants a client like Trump even if he is a president.
4. Trump Will Talk Himself into Jail Time: Trump is his own worst enemy. He compulsively convicts himself out of his own mouth. He is every prosecutor's dream of a pefect defendent.
5. Someone will sell him out. Mueller will press for turncoats, and he will get them. Michael Flynn has already offered to turn state's witness. Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chair, is under investigation for criminal conduct vis-a-vis Ukraine and Russia. Now also targeted by Mueller is Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, and — as of yesterday — Trump's clueless son Donald Jr. is under investigation by the New York state Attorney General for possible improprieties in his "charitable" organization. Will these relatives turn on Daddy Trump? I bet they will in a minute.
And what about Jeff Sessions, the Trump-appointed Attorney General and head of the Dpartment of JUstice? This week Comey indicated that Sessions may also be under investigation for his twice-failure to report his meetings with the Russians. Failing to disclose such on an application for a security clearance is a felony, as is lying under oath about the meetings to the Senate committee that examined him for his appointment to being AG.
Would Sessions try to buy his way into the clear by revealing collusion between the Russians and Trump or the Trump campaign to tip the 2016 election? Why wouldn't he? Trump makes a big thing out of loyalty, but why would he expect self-sacrificing loyalty from men who have already violated their loyalty to their country and to the law?
Once a rat, always a rat.
5. There's more!: Trump virtually commits a crime a day. Some aren't readily punishable by law. For example, his disclosing secrets to the Russians becomes a non-crime because the president can choose to declassify material. But other missteps aren't protected.
Trump's latest is interfering with a witness by attempting intimidation. In this he was aided by — of all people! — his private attorney. Threatening to have Comey "investigated" for "leaking" Comey's own memoranda is a blatant attempt at intimidation of a potential future witness. The nifty thing here is that both Trump and his attorney are potentially liable for this crime. Only an attorney as ineffective as Trump's would make such a blunder.
Meantime Mueller's investigation and that of the Senate Intelligence Committee aren't all that Trump faces. Various other government agences are investigating the Trumps, and there are several private law suits of considerabe threat to him. One of the latter is an "unfair competition" suit against his D.C. hotel on the grounds it exploits Trump's presidential status and thus unfairly takes business from competitors. This won't bring prison time, but it's nice to know Trump has one more thing to worry about.
Conclusion: Trump sure looks like he's headed to jail. The only remaining question is whether his wife — who visibly flinches when he gets close — will visit him in jail to bring the little unhealthy snacks he so loves.