“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”, said Mark Twain in 1897 when told of his obituary published in the New York Journal. Substituting “demise” for “death”, this could well form the basis of a tweet from an embattled President Donald Trump as his enemies encircle the White House. In a piece in Vanity Fair last week, Gabriel Sherman wrote, “In recent days I’ve spoken with half a dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocussed and consumed by dark moods.” He goes on to quote from two sources about a furious Trump telling his long time security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are few exceptions, but I hate them.” (This has since been denied by a White House official.) In an extraordinary interview reported last week in the New York Times with Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Trump was accused of treating his office like a “reality show”, with reckless threats towards other countries that could set the nation on a path to World War 3. In a day of public insults, Trump had accused Corker of deciding not to run for re-election (he had earlier announced his decision to retire next year) because “he didn’t have the guts”. To this, Corker replied with a tweet: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care centre. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” All this followed an earlier report that Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had called him a “…moron” (expletive deleted), something he hasn’t retracted, although his spokeswoman said he never used such language.
My American friends of both Republican and Democratic persuasion are acutely embarrassed by this childish behaviour of the most powerful person in the world. “Where has the dignity of the President gone?” they ask, as tweet after tweet emanate daily from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account (I counted 10 tweets from him on 13 October alone). These tweets frequently cut across various departments in the Administration, leaving officials bewildered as to current policy. This leads to important posts left unfilled, as potential high quality personnel, who in the past would have readily snapped up senior positions, refuse to be considered. In August this year, for example, seven months after the start of the Trump Administration, of the 113 senior positions in the important State Department, only 36 had been filled. This is bound to have a negative impact on US foreign policy. Witness the controversy of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. In spite of his advisors and allies telling him that the deal was working, Trump appears to have been persuaded by his talks in Israel and Saudi Arabia (who would ever have thought that these two countries could ever work together?) to expand unilaterally his interpretation of the deal to include the international behaviour of Iran. This is not only wrong, it is dangerous as it is a gift to the hardliners in Tehran, who can claim that the US is abrogating the agreement and therefore cannot be trusted. Only the intervention of the highest ranking officials in the administration, former generals McMaster (National Security Advisor), Mattis (Defense Secretary) and Kelly (Chief of Staff), together with Tillerson, prevented Trump from tearing up the agreement, rather than “disavowing the accord”. These four officials have saved America from its President.
The question increasingly being asked is can anything be done to restrict Trump or even remove him from office? The glacial pace of the Mueller investigation into Trump’s alleged connections with Russia, following Trump’s shock dismissal, virtually unprecedented, of James Comey in June this year, is now seriously examining the “Steele Dossier”. This 35-page report claims that Russia is in possession of damaging or embarrassing information about Trump, which could be used for purposes of blackmail to get Trump to cooperate with the Russian government. It includes allegations about Trump’s sexual and financial dealings in Russia. Denounced by Trump as “fake news”, a regular description of anything he doesn’t agree with, the accusations in the dossier have not been verified. The credibility of the report, however, rests with the reputation of Chris Steele, who was a colleague when we both worked in the British Embassy in Moscow during the early 1990s. Recalled through the mist of 25 years, I can remember Chris as a serious, highly regarded young professional MI6 officer. This high reputation has also been vouched for by Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow. Having been aware of the Soviet trick of “kompromat”, the age-old method of seducing single male visitors to Moscow using attractive young females, I find it entirely plausible that this technique was tried on Trump when he visited the Soviet Union as a businessman. Whether or not Trump succumbed to this temptation, if it was indeed tried either in 1987 or during the Miss Universe pageant he organised in 2013, is of course entirely conjecture, although one recalls his boasting of his prowess with women during the election campaign. Trump denies any involvement during his trips, adding that any reports are merely “smear campaigns”. The Steele Dossier is just one of several lines of enquiry covered by the Mueller investigation which could, in theory, result in impeachment and removal of President Trump.
A further avenue for Trump’s removal could be the “25th amendment”. This simply states that a President can be removed if he is deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duty of his office”. In other words, can Trump do his job? The swathe of critical comments coming from all sides certainly suggests that this avenue is possible, but it would require the Vice President and Cabinet, together with Congress to consider invoking the 25th amendment; a serious move and currently unlikely. However, if the Democrats take control of the House or Senate on 6 November 2018, Trump will be in great danger as the remaining Republicans will panic about losing their seats. Until then he is safe.