Trump’s worst week in office

Will the fallout of the Cohen testimony and the Vietnam summit setback push Trump to wag the dog?

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on February 28, 2019, in Hanoi [AP/ Evan Vucci] [Daylife]

It was a tough week for President Donald Trump. In fact, it was probably worse than many of the weeks previously labelled the worst.

Michael Cohen testified to congressional committees for three days. One of them in public. So what did his testimony accomplish?

It did not reveal a new crime so severe, so dramatic, and so well documented that it would move Congress to commence impeachment proceedings and also convince enough Republican senators to turn against Trump so that there would be any likelihood of success or change Department of Justice policy on indicting the president. It did not provide evidence of direct collusion between Trump personally and Russia either.

What it did do was map the way forward. This short exchange with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a preview of the next season of Trump’s House of Cards.

“AOC: Did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

Cohen: Yes.

AOC: Who else knows that the president did this?

Cohen: Allen Weisselberg (chief financial officer of the Trump Organization), Ron Lieberman (its executive vice president), and Matthew Calamari (its chief operating officer).

AOC: … Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

Cohen: Yes. And you’d find it at the Trump Org.

AOC: … The president may have improperly deflated the value of his assets to avoid paying taxes. … Would it help for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns?

Cohen: I believe so.”

Quicker than preparing an instant dessert, Ocasio-Cortez established the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s right and the necessity to subpoena Trump’s tax filings with the federal government, various states, and municipalities. It is very likely these will reveal documentary proof of tax fraud, insurance fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, and other financial crimes.

In his opening statement, Cohen branded Trump as a “racist,” a “conman”, and a “cheat”. He also said that Trump was more preoccupied with “making his brand great again” than leading the country. The Republicans went after Cohen viciously, relentlessly, and often nonsensically. One of them tried to say that Trump was not a racist. None of them tried to prove he was not really a conman and a cheat.

Among the list of names that Cohen said had participated in the various deceptions and manipulations were the Trump progeny: Don Jr, Eric, and even Ivanka.

Other prosecutors, in addition to Mueller, and multiple congressional committees will be coming after Trump, the Trump Organization, the campaign, and the inauguration committee. The allegations will turn into testimony under penalty of perjury. Charges will turn into convictions. The president will become, at least, an unindicted co-conspirator.

While that was happening, Trump had galivanted off to Hanoi to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom he was going to make a deal. They would denuclearise. Sanctions would end. They would re-enter the family of nations. Donald would build a golf course and a hotel on one of their fabulous beaches (I guess, based on no particular evidence.)

That would far outweigh the trash-talking testimony back in DC and, he desired, dreamed, plotted, would get him the Nobel Peace Prize – one that would be more deserved than Obama’s!

Instead, there was no deal. It collapsed. Trump dropped the preplanned signing ceremony and headed back to the US, having accomplished nothing.

It is not yet known if these twinned episodes have radically effected Trump’s standing with voters. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans are still his supporters.

Does Trump think he’s in greater trouble than a week ago? If so, how much, and what will his impulses move him to do about it? Will it prompt a Wag the Dog moment? Will he launch an actual war to beat domestic political problems? It is a practice with a long history in the US and elsewhere. It can be quite successful. The Falklands War resurrected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s career. Becoming “a war president” got George W Bush re-elected (though it spelled disaster for the rest of the world).

The next question is where?

Not North Korea. “There’s a warmth that we have,” Trump said about Kim and they were actually “very good and constructive meetings”. Besides, Trump has already said, many times, that the US had been on the verge of war with them and he’d saved the world from it.

Venezuela? While there have been mumblings about saving the world from socialism, no one has made the case that Venezuela is a threat to the US. While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may be violently unpopular, a US invasion is the one thing that might save him. It might be as problematic as the Bay of Pigs invasion and Russian President Vladimir Putin is opposed to it.

Syria? To go back in would imply that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) was not totally defeated after Trump declared that he’d totally defeated it.

Iran? Attacking Iran would be even more disastrous than invading Iraq. It’s bigger, with a better military and has the ability and the will to strike back not at the US mainland, but at its friends and allies. It would be an aggressive war and therefore, a war crime. Nonetheless, there is a significant political sub-group that has long been committed to demonising Iran, calling it a true existential threat, and demanding the destruction of its regime.

To speak as Donald Trump speaks, that would be bad, very really bad, a bad thing, but who knows, it might still happen.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.