Oct 7, 2018

3 looming Trump traps

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Here are the looming legal dangers for the Trump White House, foreseen by former White House lawyers interviewed by Evan Ryan and me.

The bottom line: Obama's White House Counsel Bob Bauer, who has thought considerably about these pitfalls and opportunities, told Axios: "An impeachment process is a legal process, and to defend against the inevitable political attacks, it must be carefully structured and well-presented to the public."

  • "It has to be disciplined in identifying and explaining the relevant standards for an impeachable offense, and it has to pay close attention to a fair and rigorous process.
  • "The House impeachment of President Clinton completely failed that test. ...
  • "In any impeachment proceedings directed against Donald Trump, the House majority would be well-served by proceeding step by step with care, attention to detail and transparency."

1. Compartmentalization: One reason Bill Clinton survived eight years of investigations was, according to his former staff, his almost supernatural ability to compartmentalize. He put the investigations in a psychic and literal box: A separate team handled them, from a communications war room to his lawyers. Clinton avoided publicly discussing the scandals.

  • "The key to Clinton’s survival during impeachment," a former Clinton official told us, "was 'compartmentalization': working with Congress on substantive issues like health care and education, even as the same Congress was trying to impeach the president."
  • "The president rarely talked about impeachment,” the former official added. “He showed himself to be busy at work delivering for the American people."

Compare that to Trump. The president relishes discussing the Mueller probe, not only with his staff but on Twitter and in public interviews.

  • Staff tell us he can't help himself. White House officials have told us they try to stay out of Trump's vicinity on a bad Mueller news day, because any conversations with him may make their legal bills balloon.
  • "He has no boundaries," a former senior White House official told Axios. Trump will try to discuss the Mueller "WITCH HUNT" with whoever is around him.

2. Legal talent: Whoever ends up replacing McGahn as White House counsel "needs to put together what is in effect the best litigation and investigation law firm in this city," Bill Clinton's White House Counsel Jack Quinn told us.

  • "And needs to do it overnight. They're going to have to get the best and the brightest and the most experienced and the most skillful, and assemble an absolutely first-rate team of lawyers to conduct defense on multiple fronts."
  • The current White House Counsel's Office — hampered for months by a terrible relationship between Don McGahn and Trump — is nowhere near the fine-tuned machine Quinn describes.

3. Competent and focused investigators: Incompetent, distracted and overzealous Republican congressional investigators helped both the Clinton and Obama administrations survive years of aggressive oversight.

  • If they win the House, Democrats could make the same mistakes and screw up their investigations by overreaching.
  • But there's a decent chance they won't. Former White House lawyers concurred that if Democrats install the highly experienced Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and keep Elijah Cummings and his seasoned staff in charge of oversight, they could marshal their investigatory power far more effectively than Republicans did under Obama and Clinton.

Go deeper

Coronavirus accelerates AI in health care

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

From predicting outbreaks to devising treatments, doctors are turning to AI in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: While machine learning algorithms were already becoming a part of health care, COVID-19 is likely to accelerate their adoption. But lack of data and testing time could hinder their effectiveness — for this pandemic, at least.

Live updates: Crewed SpaceX launch postponed due to weather

The Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon atop. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX's attempt to launch NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken has been postponed due to weather. They could attempt to launch again as soon as Saturday.

Why it matters: If all goes well, the launch — now expected to happen at 3:22 p.m. ET on Saturday — will mark the first time a private company has successfully launched people to orbit and the first crewed, orbital rocket launch from the U.S. in 9 years.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 5,647,961 — Total deaths: 353,011 — Total recoveries — 2,325,227Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 1,692,786 — Total deaths: 99,783 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Public health: Fauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine — Nearly half of Americans say someone in their household has delayed medical care.
  4. Business: African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs saysDisney plans phased reopening on July 11Author Ann Patchett says bookstores are innovating to stay connected with customers.
  5. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy