Ahead of today's extraordinary Supreme Court hearings, Paul Krishnamurty reports on several controversies that could affect the election...
"If the Supreme Court rules against him, Trump will likely have to release several years of tax returns and loan agreements with Deutsche Bank. This is arguably the riskiest moment of his entire career."
The betting for Next President remains strangely stable, with Donald Trump available to back at 2.111/10 and Joe Biden at 2.3411/8. This despite polls consistently favouring the latter.
It may be that, such is the scepticism around polling, it will take 'events' to shift market sentiment. If so, several potential gamechangers are coming into focus.
SCOTUS to hear Deutsche Bank arguments today
May 12th has long been in the diary of every keen follower of the TrumpRussia investigation. From 3pm UK time, CSpan will play live audio coverage of the arguments in front of the Supreme Court towards the case in which Trump is sueing his bankers and lawyers - to block them from complying with subpoenas, demanding the release of his records.
This is the endgame that I've been discussing for over three years. The moment when it becomes undeniable that Trump is bankrolled by Russian oligarchs allied to Vladimir Putin - whom Congress and every intelligence agency concluded interfered in the last election on his behalf. Or the moment when it becomes unarguable that this president is untouchable - above the law.
Deutsche Bank have been engulfed by a global criminal investigation into laundering money for Russian organised crime. Their relationship with Trump - involving dubious loans and techniques, employed after his bankruptcies meant few if any Western banks were willing to touch him - has been widely reported.
If the Supreme Court rules against him, Trump will likely have to release several years of tax returns and loan agreements with Deutsche Bank. Irrespective of all this alleged wrongdoing, his true worth could become public knowledge. This is arguably the riskiest moment of his entire career.
The president's lawyers argue that their client should not have to comply with 'political' subpoenas from Congress and Manhattan prosecutors. This Bloomberg article provides a good overview of the legal arguments.
However important this may seem, don't assume it will dominate headlines. There are numerous distractions to divert attention.
Fauci evidence could provide a distraction
In another key hearing, the country's top epidemiologist Dr Anthony Fauci will appear remotely in front of a Senate committee tomorrow to answer questions related to coronavirus. The White House blocked him from appearing in front of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives last week.
Trump, meanwhile, is throwing everything at transforming the narrative around Russia. Last week his Attorney General Bill Barr made a quite stunning move when dropping charges against Trump's initial National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
The fallout from that is far from finished. Nearly 2,000 former DOJ employees called on Barr to resign yesterday. This after a top DOJ official central to the judgement wrote a weekend op-ed accusing Barr of 'twisting her words' in order to justify his actions.
Flynn had earlier pleaded guilty, admitting lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian Ambassador in a phone call that was recorded by US intelligence. When summing up, Judge Emmett Sullivan said Flynn had 'arguably betrayed his country'. He doesn't have to accept these Department of Justice recommendations without comment. This piece in The Atlantic discusses what he could say.
Trump turning accusations towards Obama
Trump's plan remains to paint the entire investigation into a witch-hunt, directed by President Obama. Reversing the Flynn charges is a key stage of that. He's now tweeting about Obamagate - without explaining precisely what the accusations are - incessantly and retweeting others boosting that narrative.
Because it was OBAMAGATE, and he and Sleepy Joe led the charge. The most corrupt administration in U.S. history! https://t.co/PTzFvvITh3? Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2020
OBAMAGATE makes Watergate look small time!? Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2020
.@PhilipRucker: You appeared to accuse Obama of a crime yesterday. What did he do?? Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2020
RUCKER: What is the crime?
TRUMP: "You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody." pic.twitter.com/EUueidNwGp
As usual, Trump has been attacking senior intelligence, FBI officials and basically anyone with experience in fighting Russian organised crime. Some new accusations about Obama blocking investigations into Biden's son are doing the rounds. There is even speculation that Trump's partisan DOJ will have his predecessor arrested before the election.
So what happens next? I am loathe to predict how these complex legal arguments will play out among what is generally a partisan Supreme Court. However the lack of support from Republican judges for Trump's position feels significant. There is a school of thought that his weekend tweetstorm was in response to bad news received about the case.
Then again, it is hard to get away from the story of this term. Total reluctance from Republicans to stand up to Trump. Controversies and legal disputes stay alive, get kicked down the road some more, and opinion is merely entrenched on either side.
Trump tactics unlikely to appease critics
If so, the amplification of these disputes cannot help Trump's re-election bid. A substantial majority always wanted his tax returns released and hate any suggestion that the president is above the law.
Picking a fight with the still-popular Obama does not make obvious sense. None of this will reverse his strongly negative approvals. Nor is Bill Barr's blatant politicisation of justice likely to win over many critics.
It is hard to see how this plays well for Trump. I doubt many know of the Deutsche Bank details, but just these arguments put forward in preliminary hearings are extremely damaging, with bombshell potential, as this thread - recorded verbatim by journalist Sandy Bachom - illustrates.
I was in the courtroom yesterday during the Deutsche Bank arguments. They pretty much said Russian Oligarchs money laundered through Trump and Jared, I think he will act crazier and crazier to get out of this, he knew the argument was WEAK and what was coming. It's over? Sandi Bachom (@sandibachom) May 23, 2019