Donald Trump
Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr

As we head into the holidays, there is no doubt that Donald Trump has thrown the country into an even deeper crisis. While stories about recent events are reported separately, there is a tie that binds them all together: the investigations that are about to expose the president’s criminality. That includes the Mueller probe, the specter of a Democratic House holding him accountable, and the various investigations into his businesses. Let’s take a look at how that is producing the recent chaos.

Trump is in a tailspin

Here’s what the Washington Post is reporting:

Trump has been isolated in bunker mode in recent weeks as political and personal crises mount, according to interviews with 27 current and former White House officials, Republican lawmakers, and outside advisers to the president, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments…

Inside the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump was in what one Republican close to the White House described as “a tailspin,” acting “totally irrationally” and “flipping out” over criticisms in the media.

The president has latched on to a showdown over funding for his wall as a way to shore up both his own panic and to assuage the criticism he has been getting from his base after he caved on the issue. Under pressure from all sides, Trump’s ego needs to demonstrate strength and dominance. This is the battle he has chosen to do that.

Additional attempts to obstruct justice

The administration is also shoring up its efforts to either infect the Mueller investigation or stop it in its tracks. If not for all of the other bombshells dropping this week, the story about acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker’s move would have gotten a lot more attention.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker chose not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation even though a top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an “abundance of caution,” a senior official said Thursday.

Whitaker’s past criticism of the Russia investigation has raised questions about whether he can oversee it fairly. The ethics official said this week that a recusal was “a close call” but suggested that Whitaker remove himself, even though he was not required to do so.

Whitaker decided not to take the advice.

Until Trump’s nominee William Barr—who has conflict of interest issues as well—can be considered for confirmation by the Senate, Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein will have to answer to Matt Whitaker. That is Trump’s attempt to protect himself from what is likely coming.

Putin seems to be calling in his chips 

Ever since the 2016 campaign, we’ve seen Donald Trump embrace Vladimir Putin and refuse to hold him accountable. But this week, we have witnessed overt attempts to align U.S. foreign policy with the Russian dictator’s interests.

* Bypassing any consultation with his national security advisers, Trump announced that the U.S. would pull its troops out of Syria, a move that was welcomed by Putin.

* As part of the exit from Syria, the “U.S. is set to withdraw from a special forces base in Syria that has been the subject of repeated Russian complaints.”

* Putin has been developing ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan to reinsert Russia into that country’s conflict. While commenting on Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria, he basically said, “Why not Afghanistan too?” Almost immediately, the Trump administration announced a withdrawal of troops from that country.

* The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it intends to lift sanctions against the business empire of Oleg V. Deripaska, the Russian oligarch with long-term ties to Paul Manafort.

It is being reported that the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria was the last straw that led to a decision by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign. But in light of all of these recent events, this portion of his letter is particularly significant.

I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Over the last two years, Mattis has watched Trump treat our allies disrespectfully and challenge our alliances in a way that benefits Vladimir Putin’s agenda. But this week, he drew the line when the president aligned himself so clearly with “countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.”

Watching all of this unfold, it is difficult to ignore the possibility that, when it comes to Trump, Putin is calling in his chips. He watches political events in this country more closely than most Americans, and he knows that his asset is on the ropes and could be about to lose the ability to do his bidding. Putin is doing all he can to get as much out of his investment as possible.

The walls are beginning to close in around Donald Trump. He’s lashing out, picking fights, and doing whatever he can to obstruct justice. Meanwhile, he is also doing the bidding of his handler in Russia with disturbing speed. Those are the ties that bind the developing chaos together.

From the day Trump was inaugurated, it has been clear that the president’s mental unfitness for office would prevent him from improving his performance. On the contrary, the only possibility was that he would decompensate under the stress. The events of the last week demonstrate that fact in a way that is becoming increasingly alarming. It is imperative that members of the president’s cabinet and Republican leaders recognize not only how dangerous things have become, but that Trump’s trajectory will only get worse as his day of reckoning draws near.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.