Senior Democrats on Sunday began talking openly about the imprisonment or impeachment of Donald Trump amid fresh allegations linking the President to hush money paid to two women ahead of the 2016 election.
The result is a growing sense of crisis as Republicans begin to weigh their chances of political survival.
Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist, said 2019 was shaping up to be a year of “siege warfare”.
“The Democrats are going to weaponise the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses,” he told The Washington Post.
“The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts . . . They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.”
The latest twist came in new court documents that said Michael Cohen, the President’s former lawyer, had acted at the direction of his employer in arranging the payments.
“They would be impeachable offences. Whether they’re important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” Jerry Nadler, a Democratic Congressman from New York, said on CNN’s State of the Union.
“Certainly, they’re impeachable offences, because, even though they were committed before the President became President, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”
His comments highlight the fresh legal and political jeopardy facing Mr Trump, who has spent his entire term under the shadow of a wide-ranging investigation into whether his campaign team colluded with Moscow.
Republicans believe the sweeping reach of Robert Mueller’s federal probe could consume the rest of the party, amidfears the White House does not have a workable strategy beyond simple denials.
A sentencing memo filed by prosecutors in New York on Friday against Mr Cohen raised the stakes.
“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” it said, using the term prosecutors have deployed to refer to the President.
It is the first time investigators have said they believe Mr Cohen acted with Mr Trump to silence two women who said they had affairs with the future president.
Mr Trump has denied the affairs and any role in payments, and has not been accused of any offences.
He issued two tweets on Sunday dismissing the evidence against him, including the recent testimony of James Comey, the former director of the FBI.
“This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President,” he wrote. “They are now exposed!”
On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked. Opened investigations on 4 Americans (not 2) – didn’t know who signed off and didn’t know Christopher Steele. All lies!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2018
Yet the accelerating flow of court documents and legal pleadings as the investigation enters its final phase has Democrats openly discussing whether the President can be prosecuted.
Although most legal analysts believe a sitting president cannot be indicted, Adam Schiff, who will head the House intelligence committee when a new term begins in January, said that would not protect him once his term ends.
“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him,” he told CBS. “He may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.
Democrats now hold sway in the House of Representatives, after capturing 40 seats in last month’s midterms, and can use their power to launch fresh investigations or impeach the president when their new term begins in January.
In a further sign of uncertainty at the White House it on Sunday evening that Mr Trump had been unable to reach agreement with his preferred candidate to take over from John Kelly as chief of staff. Nick Ayers, who currently works for Mike Pence, the vice-president, had been expected to fill the role.