“Admit wrong and move on,” they say. So we’ll confess upfront we got two big votes incorrectly: Trump’s election and the British referendum on European Union membership. Chastened and humbled, we sent our crystal ball off for a deep clean and Deluxe Wizard™ high polishing, and we’ve been on track ever since: forecasts of chaos, corruption and confusion as a result of both outcomes have sadly confirmed themselves repeatedly.
Slightly more confident but no less anxious about the state of our union, we are ready to predict what’s next with what may be the defining rubric of the Trump presidency: the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
1. It’s not ending soon. Mueller in January got a six-month extension on his grand jury and recently asked a court to waive speedy trial requirements as to Roger Stone. A number of cooperating witnesses have yet to be sentenced. Plea deals with people like former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen suggest Mueller’s after someone higher in the food chain, probably Trump himself or at least a family member. Tweets demanding to end it echo Nixon’s pleas, likely with the same impact.
2. Mueller won’t indict Trump, publicly release his report or dig into issues other than Russia and obstruction of that investigation. Mueller’s a by-the-book guy and doing any of these things would violate existing Special Counsel law or Department of Justice regulations, rules and practices. Mueller is not going to break the law or unnecessarily risk getting fired by the attorney general.
3. Mueller won’t indict anyone for “collusion.” That’s a term reserved in the law for things like competitors agreeing to fix prices. The term here would be “conspiracy” — an agreement of two or more people to break the law with at least one of them then taking a related action.
4. Much of the Mueller Report will become public. By law Mueller is to report confidentially to the attorney general on why he indicted whom he did and possibly why others were not indicted. But whether by decision of the attorney general or subpoena of the report by the now Democratic-controlled House or subpoena of Mueller himself, we predict most of the report will come out. The public will insist on it.
5. The Report won’t fully settle the impeachment issue. We predict Mueller will have uncovered a dozen warm guns and the other investigations a deep and lengthy trail of corrupt business practices. But not enough for a two-thirds vote to convict by the Senate, with Republican lawmakers exclaiming, “No smoking gun!” They are likely to treat impeachment as if it is a criminal trial where the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applies, though the Constitution does not set the bar so high. On the other hand, with impeachment in the House requiring only a majority vote, we predict this will happen, relying on the results of the Mueller Report, House investigations and other prosecutions such as those involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
6. Trump is unlikely to leave office voluntarily. Only one president of 45 has left office voluntarily. In fact there’s a much better chance a president will die in office (eight have). We expect that Trump would be much less persuaded by arguments about what’s in the purported long-term interest of the Republican Party or the country than was Nixon. The only scenario under which we could foresee Trump leaving of his own volition would be if his daughter Ivanka laid out a persuasive case to him that it would kill the family business and seriously hurt his children — i.e., her — if he stays. If his poll numbers drop below 30 percent, don’t be surprised if Republican leaders make the ask. True, “A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” But the same Richard Nixon who spoke those words finally saw fit to quit.
7. The situation will get more explosive before it finally resolves. A pardon of a family member. Release of kompromat. There are plenty of opportunities like these for things to get more exciting (or terrifying, depending on your perspective). It could be that the House impeaches Trump and the Senate takes no action, leaving it all to 2020 voters to decide.
8. The country will not be just fine. It’s grievous arrogance to assume the United States will always eventually resume thriving and continuing to lead the world. Much as the United Kingdom has gone in the reign of one queen from a global superpower to something far less — not to mention further dissolution if Brexit precedes — we predict the United States will leave the Trump years with its global influence profoundly diluted. Still a leader, but having to share the world stage with an increasing number of superpowers, including China, India and Russia.
9. Putin will have a very good time. Whether Trump is proven to be a Russian agent, merely a “useful idiot” or tainted by illegal business practices — or absolved completely — one near certainty is that the country will remain profoundly divided. At moments when the world most needs our leadership, we likely will be too distracted to provide it. History will record Putin’s influence on the election and the resulting American divisiveness and loss of leadership as the greatest intelligence coup. Ever.
10. There remain many unknown unknowns. Some new drama seems to arise each week — charges of politically motivated blackmail by the Trump-friendly National Enquirer, links to Russian spies and campaign donations, questionable connections between Brexit advocate and Trump sycophant Nigel Farage and the Democratic National Committee-hacking Julian Assange and, well, the list goes on. It’s almost impossible to discern between coincidence, conspiracy theory and actual conspiracy, but it’s unlikely we’ll run out of scandal anytime soon.
Though optimists by nature, the last couple of years have tempered our outlooks with a dose of realism. We hope to be pleasantly surprised that this is all wrapped up in a way that leads us to unity and to a resumption of U.S. economic, political, and democratic leadership in the world. Odds are better that sea levels fall. As the president would say — or at least tweet — “#sad!”