Imagine the scene come 20 January. It’s a frigid day in Washington, both inside and outside the White House and Capitol.
The latter iconic building is decked out in American flags and socially distanced dignitaries and even a few former presidents. But one man is missing.
Joe Biden has just been sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. He has exited the presidential limousine and is waving to bystanders on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Donald Trump, earlier that morning, reluctantly left the White House on his own accord. But instead of having tea with Joe Biden and his wife Jill, as is American custom for an outgoing commander-in-chief, the 45th President and wife Melania Trump took Marine One to Joint Base Andrews to link up with Air Force One.
Mid-flight, it would become Executive One. That is the official moniker of the Boeing 747-200 used to fly former presidents to their next destination after a new one has been sworn in.
As the plane Trump long wanted to slap a red-white-and-blue paint job on touches down in south Florida and taxis to a stop before hundreds of his remaining loyalists, it is met by a caravan of black US Secret Service SUVs.
But then, from the other direction on the tarmac, comes a smaller number of gold government Suburbans. Perhaps with New York plates. Inside: Agents from the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York.
The lead agent on the SDNY team approaches the newly minted head of Trump’s post-presidential security detail, which is afforded to all former chiefs executive. They would like to have a word – no, a few days’ worth of them – with the now-former president.
Once Trump and Melania walk down the mobile stairs and onto Florida soil to begin the next phase of their lives, there is confusion: Where will the questioning take place?
There is no lack of intimate venues: A federal building in the greater Palm Beach area? Trump’s new residence inside his Mar-a-Lago resort? During a not-so-friendly round of golf or a working lunch at his nearby hotel?
In which motorcade should the former president, the subject of or a big player in nearly 20 New York City-based state and local criminal investigation, be transported to the site of this initial round of questioning?
After a heated scuffle – caught on camera by the tens of local, national and international media outlets on hand at Palm Beach International Airport to chronicle his return to civilian life – the FBI team and his Secret Service detail agree he will ride in the USSS Suburban with the federal agents’ vehicles falling in behind in a mixed motorcade.
Imagine the split screens on televisions across the country and world. On one side: A smiling and ebullient Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is waving to supporters as he prepares to enter the Oval Office as president for the first time. On the other: A dour-faced and angry Donald John Trump is seen tapping on his iPhone and then yelling at someone unlucky enough to be on the other side of his first phone call as an official federal criminal suspect.
As Trump himself has said many times: Imagine the ratings.
Does such a scenario seem too dramatic, too much the stuff of political thriller novels or B-rate films? Possibly.
But this is the Trump era. And that means nothing is too outlandish or even off-limits. As a good friend of this correspondent, a Washington policy veteran, says often these days: “Nothing matters anymore.”
That could even go for the deference paid to former presidents, a sort of lifetime courtesy extended to those who have taken on perhaps the toughest job in the world.
Attorney General William Barr has shown Trump great loyalty. But like Trump, his term no doubt would end the second Biden finished the Oath of Office. What’s more, despite what has gone on at the top of the Justice Department, its Southern District of New York has shown no inkling in showing Trump much mercy.
There are at least 12 federal and state investigations into Trump, his 2016 campaign and his business dealings, according to a list compiled by the New York Times.
That includes possible hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and others; whether the Trump team offered a pardon to his former “fixer” and personal attorney Michael Cohen; alleged insurance claim inflation; other potentially illegal insurance frauds; misused charitable trusts; various campaign finance violations; and self-dealing within The Trump Organization, a.k.a the family business.
But wait. There’s more.
Federal investigators also seem keen to speak with the President about a slew of matters related to his, to put it diplomatically, murky tax situation.
When you have watched the Trump operation up close for a half-decade — and studied its actions since before Trump entered the presidential race in 2015 — there are similarities to organizations that operate, shall we say, at the margins of rules and laws.
Fictional television mob boss Tony Soprano once said, “If you can quote the rules, then you can obey them.” This president never quite quotes them, instead stating his interpretation of them and trying to shape others’ perceptions of how he has twisted and pressed them to their breaking points.
The head of the Soprano organization also uttered this memorable diatribe: “All due respect, you got no f***in’ idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f***in’ thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.”
There is enough evidence to know Trump has never been much of a delegator – he does not trust others enough to leave big decisions in their “less capable” hands. This was a hands-on executive and is a hands-on president.
Donald John Trump has made countless consequential – and highly questionable – decisions in his private and presidential dealings, ones that have triggered the legal system’s scrutiny over and over and over.
He may very soon be alone with it all.