It appears that despite all denials, the president knew about and ordered "hush money" to be paid to a porn actress and former Playboy bunny. Whether that broke election finance laws or not, Melania Trump cannot be pleased. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
At a time when much of America's political dialogue is determined by sound bites and tweets, Donald Trump's difficulties could be summarized as presidential "M" problems.
Internationally, the Western alliance is being shaken by the tenuous toeholds on power of the Big Three Ms: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May; Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel; and France's President Emmanuel Macron. In particular, the seemingly inevitable disaster of Brexit is likely to diminish or finish the U.S.-U.K. special relationship and similarly the "Quad" -- the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany -- that is central to maintaining NATO solidarity.
At home, M problems are worse and possibly catastrophic: Money; Melania Trump; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; and the biggest M of all, special counsel Robert Mueller.
Money has several different components. The first deals with the health of the economy that has sustained the president. Given the volatility of stock markets, many 401(k)s and other retirement accounts have lost lots of money. Politically, that will hurt any incumbent if this downward market spiral is not reversed.
Money may or may not be the root of all evil. However, it now appears that despite all denials, the president knew about and ordered "hush money" to be paid to a porn actress and former Playboy bunny. Whether that broke election finance laws or not, the next M for Melania Trump cannot be pleased. And if presidential income tax returns become public, that could open up avenues revealing further wrongdoing and embarrassment if the president is not at rich as he claims.
Regarding Mohammed -- and the president's refusal to hold him accountable for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi -- the unanimous Senate resolution rejecting Trump is quite stunning and politically damaging. The situation still could grow worse.
The last M, of course, is potentially the most damaging: Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process and the 2016 elections. The president has vociferously denied any and all wrongdoing from payoffs to collusion and conspiracy with Russia and Russians. But presidential truthfulness is never a given.
The number of the president's key advisers and appointees who, so far, have been convicted of or implicated in criminal activities exceeds Watergate and the Reagan era Iran-Contra totals -- not an enviable record. Thus, it is fair first to question the president's judgment in selecting these individuals for important jobs in his administration. Second, all this could lead back to Trump if this M finds any evidence of "high crimes and misdemeanors" sufficient to test the issue of indicting a sitting president or even warrant impeachment hearings and possible conviction.
Perhaps the president's current predicaments arose from his extraordinary inexperience in and understanding of how government operates and the laws, rules and regulations that apply to every American, including the president. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vividly described how on occasion he had to tell the president that what was being proposed was against the law or against certain treaty obligations. That a secretary of state acknowledged this, even if Trump called Tillerson "dumb as a rock," is stunning. Whether Mueller has any interest pursuing this potential conspiracy to break the law is unknown.
And there is a very unlikely but possible fatal double M problem -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has been an unwavering defender of the president and his policies. He has refused to allow legislation to come to the floor that would prevent the firing of Mueller and the termination of the investigation into Russian interference in American politics and the 2016 election.
But that could change. This might not be a Howard Baker moment of what did the president know and when did he know it. However, if the Mueller report produces a smoking howitzer, McConnell may have no alternative except to move against the president.
None of this is good for America and its maintenance of global leadership. When Bill Clinton was impeached and not convicted over lying under oath about an affair with a young female White House intern, many foreigners were in disbelief that the United States would so charge a president. Now if there are provable allegations of illegal activities -- and there may not be -- how then will America be viewed by friends and adversaries alike?
It does not take a James Bond or Henry Kissinger to conclude that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping will view this as an opportunity to exploit to the hilt. And Allies in Europe and Asia will look elsewhere for support and leadership. In simple terms, M could stand for a real mess.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.