The Trump Storm

For Signal readers who don’t obsessively track every new development in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump, here’s an update on the week’s news.


Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight felony charges that could send him to prison for life, unless he cooperates with Mueller. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to felony charges that implicate Trump, and Cohen’s lawyer says Cohen would like to talk with Mueller.

Given the latest developments, it’s time to lay down some scenarios. Let’s imagine how the Mueller drama might play out, and the risks it could create for US relations with other countries. We don’t know when, but unless Trump finds a way to fire him, Mueller will issue a report of his findings to Congress.

Here are the three scenarios and what they might mean:

Scenario 1  Trump Vindication. The report argues Trump is guilty mainly of surrounding himself with untrustworthy people. It reveals no compelling evidence that the president knew about, much less approved, criminal offenses.

In this case, Mueller’s report would strengthen Trump and demoralize his critics. Trump would remain the unquestioned leader of his party, and Democrats would scramble for a single coherent message to use against him in 2020.

Scenario 2 — Hard Evidence.  The report finds Trump committed high crimes against the United States. In particular, it reveals documentary evidence, supported by credible witness testimony, that Trump personally agreed to design policies to help other governments in exchange for their help in winning the 2016 election and/or financial benefit for his businesses.

In this case, the charge would essentially be treason. It would be hard, both politically and morally, for Republican lawmakers to allow Trump to remain in office. If he were forced out, Mike Pence would become president, and the question of a Gerald Ford-style pardon for Trump would immediately dominate Washington.

Scenario 3 — A Mueller Mess. The report relies on testimony of untrustworthy Trump associates and inconclusive documentary evidence to build a case against Trump that Democrats claim is airtight and Republicans dismiss as circumstantial.

In this case, the fight has only just begun.

For now, it’s impossible to know which scenario is most likely, but the second and third options come with two sets of worries. If Trump faces impeachment and a trial in the Senate, his policies could remain in limbo until his fate is resolved—even if this process drags on for months.

The larger foreign-policy risk might come from the president’s frustration. Donald Trump is a punch-thrower. It’s his defining characteristic. He’ll throw punches at Mueller, at Democrats, at Republicans who refuse to defend him, and at the media.

Backed into a corner, he might also be tempted to escalate sharply with China or Europe on the trade front. He could throw military punches at a North Korea that’s not denuclearizing fast enough, or an Iran he says is making trouble.

The bottom line: When the leader of the world’s sole superpower—one who prides himself on toughness and unapologetic defiance—faces this much trouble, there’s plenty of risk to go around.

Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to child online protection. First and foremost, as a technology company, it has a responsibility to create software, devices and services that have safety features built in from the outset. Last week, in furtherance of those commitments, Microsoft shared a grooming detection technique, code name "Project Artemis," by which online predators attempting to lure children for sexual purposes can be detected, addressed and reported. Developed in collaboration with The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik and Thorn, this technique builds off Microsoft patented technology and will be made freely available to qualified online service companies that offer a chat function.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.