The investigations of possible collusion between the campaign of US President Donald Trump and the Russian government to influence the 2016 US presidential election have intensified over the last several weeks. Key figures, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, appeared before congressional committees and the FBI executed a pre-dawn raid on a residence belonging to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. A shake-up of senior staff and discord between Trump and other senior officials have compounded the administration’s difficulties. Secretary of Homeland Security and retired general John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff, and the combative Anthony Scaramucci was dismissed after only 11 days as communications director. Via Twitter, Trump also launched personal attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and issued veiled threats against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though both remain in their positions. In addition, he publicly insulted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the Senate’s failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
At the same time, Congress, including members of the Republican Party, is increasingly willing to stand up to Trump, as demonstrated by the healthcare defeat and the Russia sanctions bill, which he grudgingly signed on 2 August. The sanctions bill indicated that Trump would probably face resistance from both parties if, as is likely, he continued to pursue warmer ties with the Kremlin. But when the federal government gets back into full swing next month, Trump will face increasing pressure from the probes into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, which will almost certainly have an impact on an already erratic foreign-policymaking process, especially on matters pertaining to Russia. A key factor will be the standing of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who has undergone withering criticism from the right-wing media for his advocacy of a more aggressive US posture in Afghanistan and against Russia – positions at odds with the views of both the president and his alt-right base. The most acute danger is that Trump’s impetuousness, aggravated by the Russia probes, could increase risks in the tense stand-off between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.