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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

That speech to Congress now seems forever ago. Reading the words off a teleprompter, Donald Trump sounded normal, even presidential. Stern critics opined that he had “turned a corner” and transformed into a serious president. Come the weekend, however, Trump turned another corner, this time into a dark dead end.

Trump was back to his Saturday morning habit of firing a fusillade of baseless inflammatory tweets. This time, they accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign.

The last hope for normalcy was dashed, and a dark realization took hold: Trump can’t do the presidency. What we saw in the first 45 days was crisis without end. What we will see in the days to come is more of the scary same.

And this comes at a relatively placid time in American history. We have not been threatened from the outside. What’s going to happen when a hostile foreign power decides to test us, knowing that the man in charge isn’t able to absorb information and respond rationally?

There’s no comforting explanation for this behavior. Did Trump believe the wiretapping charges to be true based on his reading of a Breitbart article and the hollering of a talk-radio provocateur? If so, why didn’t he just call the acting director of national intelligence or the FBI and ask? He’s the president, or so we hear.

Or was Trump just reverting to form and deflecting attention from a miserable news cycle in which several of his campaign associates were being linked to the country’s Russian adversaries? His strategy has been to change the conversation in time for the Sunday news talk shows. In this, he seems to have succeeded, but the cost was huge.

As former CIA Director Michael Hayden commented Monday, “the president of the United States put his own reputation, the reputation of his predecessor and the reputation of his nation at risk to get at least a draw out of the next 24 hours of news.”

For the record, both FBI Director James Comey and James Clapper, director of national intelligence under Obama, said there were no such wiretaps — and they would know.

Presidents don’t order surveillance on Americans. Intelligence officials can place a wiretap on someone only after showing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court probable cause that the target is an agent of a foreign power or involved in a crime.

If Trump was indeed under surveillance, the public should demand to know why. What information persuaded a judge to order national intelligence to keep an eye on him and possibly his associates?

Patriots must unite and start winding down this bizarre presidency. This is no longer about Republicans and Democrats; it’s about forestalling a national emergency.

Congress must launch an independent investigation into the Trump team’s Russian ties and appoint a special prosecutor. Trump’s unhinged behavior should be reason enough for his removal — through impeachment or pressure to resign. But if the probes find serious wrongdoing, Congress must act.

Republicans are in the politically awkward position of either doing what many know must be done or alienating Trump’s base of ardent believers. But love of country should take precedence over love of job. Besides, if presidential instability were to set off an economic collapse or another crisis, the base would turn on them all.

By the time you read this, the Trump administration will probably have spawned a half-dozen new shocking revelations or blatant lies. But there will be no more intervening blips of optimism that it can go straight. There’s only one more corner for Trump to turn, and it is the one leading to the exits.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast event in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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