Wed, Dec 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Some Trump allies worry about probes

REVOLT?Trump is expected to launch his re-election bid and collect pledges of loyalty from Republicans amid rumors that a challenger might step forward from party ranks

AP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday.

Photo: AP

US President Donald Trump’s intensifying legal troubles are unnerving some of his fellow Republicans. Despite his brash stance, they believe the turmoil has left him increasingly vulnerable as he gears up for what is sure to be a nasty fight for re-election.

Trump, ever confident of his ability to bend storylines to his will, mocks the investigations into his conduct as presidential candidate and US president as a “witch hunt,” and insists he will survive the threats.

However, a shift began to unfold over the weekend after prosecutors in New York for the first time linked Trump to a federal crime of illegal hush payments.

That left some of his associates fearful that his customary bravado is unwarranted.

For some Republicans, the implication that the US president might have directed a campaign finance violation, which would be a felony, could foreshadow a true turning point in the Republican relationship with him when special counsel Robert Mueller releases his report on the Russia investigation.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more that’s going to come out from the Southern District [of New York] and from, at some point, from the Mueller investigation as well,” US Senator John Thune, the US Senate’s incoming No. 2 Republican, said on Monday. “What they’re implying there, obviously, is something I assume at some point the president will have an opportunity to respond to.”

“Campaign finance violations are something that ... they are serious matters, but obviously it depends a little bit on how it gets treated,” he added.

As the legal drama plays out, political challenges that could threaten Trump’s re-election are piling up.

Republicans are still coming to terms with their drubbing in last month’s US House of Representatives elections and looking for someone to blame.

The departure of John Kelly as White House chief of staff has set off a disorganized search for a replacement who could stay in the job through the 2020 campaign.

After Trump’s top choice, the US vice president’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, passed on the job, few of the remaining candidates have political experience.

Also, Democrats would soon take control of the House, wielding subpoena power and potentially exploring impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, financial markets have been jittery, in part because of Trump’s trade wars and concerns that higher borrowing costs could ultimately trigger a recession.

Facing pressure from Mueller and an impending onslaught of Democratic investigations, Trump could hew even further to the right, catering exclusively to the base of voters he is concerned about losing, according to a Republican close to the White House who has consulted on the early re-election efforts.

That instinct would echo the US president’s double-down, scorched-earth response to the crises that hit his 2016 campaign, including the Access Hollywood tape about forcing himself on women, and could make it harder to woo the independent voters or disaffected Democrats he might well need.

Could Trump face a primary election challenge from within his own party?

He does not seem concerned.

The US president is eager to unleash his re-election machinery and begin to collect pledges of loyalty from across the Republican Party to quell any hint of an insurrection, according to a campaign official and a Republican familiar with the inner workings of the campaign, but not authorized to speak publicly.

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