So, on the day after the virtually simultaneous guilty finding for Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, and guilty plea for Michael Cohen, his lawyer and fixer who identified Trump as directing the action, it sounds as if all the key players and their tribes are reading their assigned parts from a script aimed at circling the wagons.
Among Democrats and Trump critics, the talk ratcheted up over impeachment and further legal problems for the president, though many just left it alone. Several picked up on remarks by legal analyst Jeff Toobin that the Cohen case left Donald Trump “an unindicted co-conspirator” in paying off women to buy their silence. For sure, the details of the Cohen case seem to be inviting more legal follow-up about Trump, and the Manafort verdict will strengthen prosecutors accused by Trump of running a “witch hunt” probe.
Of course, buying the continuing silence of most congressional Republicans has taken no hush money at all. They loathe to take on criminal Trump for fear of electoral Trump.
Among the more vocal of Trump’s defenders, the outlines of a predictable response were quickly evident: The guilty verdicts, and the charges involved, had nothing to do with collusion, Russia investigations, or even the president himself.
In a way, the defenses were almost more interesting than the descriptions of legal hot water the president now finds himself facing. Trump himself compared the felony conspiracy of violating campaign finance laws charged by Cohen to late campaign report filings by his predecessor (and his own campaign), which drew fines, not jail.
- At his campaign rally in West Virginia, Trump skipped any mention of the guilty pleas to keep bashing opponents, whether Democrats or journalists, over immigration, taxes and his usual suspects. Incongruously, the crowd started chanting “Lock her up” once again, on this very day when Trump’s associates are headed for jail, about Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails. The important part here is that true-Trumpists ignore fact for the fantasy they prefer to accept.
- Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pushed back on the idea that the Cohen plea represents a significant legal threat to Trump. “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” he said in a statement. “It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.” Actually, that’s not true, of course, although, as we know, Giuliani thinks truth is relative to whatever suits the president. In rebuttal, Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis said, Cohen “stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
- Sean Hannity, unofficial captain of the defense, used his Fox commentary to mourn the death of “equal justice under the law” because Hillary had not been prosecuted, as if this is a tit-for-tat game rather than prosecution of corruption. “Cohen and Manafort ― literally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for bank and tax frauds, etc.,” Hannity said. “In today’s two-tiered justice system, as a Democrat, clearly you can commit financial fraud and get away with it. By the way, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Just as impeachment realistically did not advance in the aftermath of the charges, attempts to explain the guilty pleas away won’t either. Instead, we can now safely predict more hunkering down in the White House over Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, more misdirection by the president and his defense team, and endless speculation about what the midterm elections in November will do to advance expected results from the Mueller investigation — all with tons of navel-gazing and no new facts. Unless someone comes up with 19 Republican senators who will support impeachment, discussion of this option realistically serves little practical purpose, regardless of November’s House elections.
The Trump strategy is to postpone, postpone, postpone.
Meanwhile, what might have drawn attention were it now for the guilty findings, was the indictment of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif) and his wife, Margaret, for misusing $200,000 in campaign funds for personal use and lying about it on the appropriate federal forms. A federal grand jury said the Hunters used the money for personal expenses, family vacations, theater tickets and dental work. Hunter is also accused of filing false campaign reports and wire fraud.
That means that the first two members of Congress to publicly support Donald Trump for president, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Hunter, have been indicted, and the three men who were next in line to back him have weathered significant scandals.
Tie these in with the departure of cabinet members Scott Pruitt, David Shulkin and Tom Price over misspending issues, unacknowledged allegations against Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross of being underhanded with business partners, and Secretary of HUD Ben Carson over misspending, and you have a pretty good record to date of corrupt practices. Add in the departures of Michael T. Flynn over lying to the FBI, Rob Porter for domestic violence, and several others for just general disagreement over policy and tone, and you have a chaotic White House, an unindictable condition, of course.
We should remember, please, that these events may be good comeuppance for the imperiousness of the president but a pretty sad turn of events for the country. The good news here is that Americans can just digest the news and move on.
Amid all these legal cases, all you need now is a divorce filing by Melania Trump.