Business Insider Edition

Donald Trump is fighting on 3 fronts this week and he's unravelling before our eyes

John Haltiwanger , Business Insider US
 Oct 04, 2019, 08:16 AM
Richard Neal (D-MA), speaks during a news conference held by House Democrats condemning the Trump Administration's targeting of the Affordable Care Act's pre-existing condition, in the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.
  • President Donald Trump has had a rough week fighting battles on three different fronts: one regarding the Ukraine scandal, one related to his tax returns, and one to hold his administration together.
  • Trump faces an impeachment inquiry catalysed by the Ukraine scandal, which is rapidly escalating and poses an existential threat to his presidency.
  • Meanwhile, another whistleblower complaint beyond the one concerned with Ukraine has emerged and is linked to Trump's taxes. The complaint could give Democrats leverage to finally see Trump's tax returns released.
  • The Trump administration appears to be fundamentally unprepared for the convoluted array of forces converging upon it. This is the losing battle Trump is fighting on the home-front.
  • Trump's recent behavior has led to criticism from some Republican lawmakers as well as Fox News commentators.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

President Donald Trump is fighting a war on three fronts right now - one on the Ukraine scandal, one on his taxes, and one to hold his administration together - and it has not gone well for him this week.

Trump faces an impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine scandal, which is rapidly escalating and poses an existential threat to his presidency. It's linked to a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in with Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

The phone call is at the heart of a whistleblower complaint from an intelligence official, which prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to finally move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry after pumping the brakes on the issue for months.

After former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference was released, a significant cohort of Democrats urged Pelosi to move forward with impeachment. Though the Mueller report was damning and did foster a slew of inquiries by House Democrats, Pelosi was reluctant to formally get the ball rolling on impeachment over fears it could backfire on her party politically.

But the Ukraine scandal has unfolded at lightning speed and is more digestible than the long-running Russia investigation and Mueller's 448-page report on it, and Pelosi has opened the floodgates.

Multiple polls have shown that public support for at least some impeachment action is up, albeit modestly, including among Republican voters. And over a majority of the House now supports at least an impeachment inquiry or more, which was not the case before the Ukraine scandal picked up steam in late September.

The other whistleblower complaint and the battle for Trump's taxes

Meanwhile, another whistleblower complaint has emerged.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on August 8 that said he'd received a credible and "unsolicited" complaint from a federal employee.

It alleges "inappropriate efforts to influence" the mandatory IRS audit of Trump's and Vice President Mike Pence's tax returns, Neal said in the letter, which was first widely reported this week.

Neal has in recent months called for more congressional oversight of the IRS's mandatory audit of the president's tax returns.

"The president is unique: No other American has the power to sign bills into law and direct an entire branch of government. That power, and the extent to which the IRS can audit and enforce federal tax laws against a current or future president, merits closer legislative scrutiny," Neal wrote in a July op-ed for The Washington Post.

Neal's primary concern is that lawmakers and the public don't know anything about the scope of the mandatory audits and "whether the president can exert undue influence on the IRS to affect his or her tax treatment."

There is no law requiring that a president release tax returns publicly, but Trump has broken with decades of precedent by refusing to do so - every president since 1974 other than Trump voluntarily released tax returns or a tax summary.

Trump's refusal to release his returns has raised questions among Democrats as to whether he's hiding something about his financial dealings. Trump continues to maintain ownership of his business empire, breaking from the tradition of presidents placing their assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.

The president has repeatedly said he can't release his tax returns because they're under audit, but there's no law or rule dictating this.

In July, Neal sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to get ahold of six years' worth of Trump's tax returns.

Though far more attention is being granted to the Ukraine scandal and few details are known about this whistleblower complaint, legal experts and former prosecutors told Insider it could land Trump in hot water legally and potentially lead to the release of his tax returns - dealing a major victory to Democrats.

Trump's self-inflicted wounds

The Trump administration appears to be fundamentally unprepared for the convoluted array of forces converging upon it.

The White House is "paralyzed" and "teetering off the edge of a cliff" amid the political firestorm that's unfolded over the Ukraine scandal and related whistleblower complaint, a White House official recently told Insider reporter Sonam Sheth.

And Trump appears to be unraveling before our eyes - floating wild conspiracy theories, suggesting a "Civil War like fracture" could transpire if he's impeached, lashing out at reporters asking basic questions, using profanity in tweets, and suggesting his political opponents be arrested for treason.

Beyond creating anxiety within the White House, Trump's recent antics have also led to criticism from some fellow Republicans in Congress. GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, referred to Trump's "Civil War" tweet as "beyond repugnant."

"I have visited nations ravaged by civil war. @realDonaldTrump I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President," Kinzinger said of Trump's tweet, which quoted a Fox News guest.

The controversies swirling around Trump have also created a schism in Fox News between the opinion hosts who support Trump and news anchors, and the president is facing far more direct and serious criticism than ever before on the conservative network.

Fox News senior legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, on Monday, for example, ripped into Trump for his conduct with Ukraine and suggested it offers grounds for impeachment.

"The president of the United States using foreign governments to influence domestic politics - that was the fear of the framers when they put that impeachment clause in the Constitution," Napolitano said.

In a subsequent op-ed for FoxNews.com on Wednesday, Napolitano said Trump's behavior has been "criminal" and "impeachable."

He also referred to Trump's suggestion that his impeachment could lead to a second American Civil War as "a dog whistle to the deranged."

Trump is not backing down, and that could continue to backfire

On Thursday, Trump stood on the White House lawn and doubled-down on the request that landed him in this political quagmire in the first place: he called on Ukraine to investigate Biden. But this time it was on live TV.

On top of this, Trump urged China to investigate Biden, presenting another instance of the president asking a foreign power to go after a political rival.

Soon thereafter, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, whom was the target of Trump's treason allegation, tweeted, "The President cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents. His rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work. America is a Republic, if we can keep it."

As he adopts increasingly extreme rhetoric and tactics to push back on the crises enveloping his presidency, Trump only appears to be digging himself into a deeper hole.

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