Michael Cohen’s testimony heralds the beginning of the end of the Trump era

The Thinker by Rodin

Michael Cohen’s testimony this week sure was riveting. Cohen, Donald Trump’s “fixer” lawyer, allowed Trump to live the life of Riley. Whatever Trump was paying Cohen, it certainly was cheaper than the real estate taxes he would have paid had not Cohen helped him artificially discount the value of his property, or the damage to his image that would have come out had some of his many affairs prematurely seen the light of day.

Cohen’s testimony though simply confirmed what even Republicans accept about him: Trump is a bamboozler, cheat, liar and conman, but he’s their bamboozler, cheat, liar, and conman. So unsurprisingly, Republicans on the House Government Oversight Committee went to bat for Trump by trying to paint Cohen’s testimony as untrustworthy because he is a convicted felon.

Of course, none of them bothered to mention that the main reason he’s going to prison is because of crimes he committed on behalf of Donald Trump. Not one of these Republicans bothered to refute the evidence that he provided. They tacitly accept that Trump (like Cohen) is a bamboozler, cheat, liar, and conman. Unlike in 1974 though Republicans don’t plan to hold the president accountable.

It’s good to be retired though and to have the time to watch it live on TV. Curiously in 1974 when Nixon’s counsel John Dean provided testimony to Congress I was watching it live too (I was only 17 at the time). I was more than a bit crushed. I’m not sure if I was a Republican back then, but I did believe what Nixon said and thought he should be given the benefit of the doubt. And there was John Dean on TV proving that I had been a sap for trusting in Nixon.

Today’s Republicans though don’t feel crestfallen at all. They knew all along whom Trump was; they just didn’t care. He’s a mean to their ends. Their ends are simply power: holding onto it and milking it for all its worth. They feel it slipping away, which is why they have no choice but to double down.

In reality, Trump is causing the end of the Republican Party. A party that wants to survive would heave him overboard, but they can’t because he genuinely does represent who they are. There are no more principled Republicans left, not that there were ever many of them. Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly that they don’t care about their professed goals like reducing budget deficits. They care about making the rich richer, the poor poorer, and stacking courts with conservatives who will force people they don’t like to do things their way. Most importantly of all, they care about retaining their white privilege. Sometimes they give away the store. As former Maine governor Paul LePage put it recently:

LePage told WVOM radio that allowing the popular vote to choose the president would give minorities more power and that “white people will not have anything to say.”

Thanks for clarifying that, Paul. But it’s not like these goals are mysteries; Trump has been the living embodiment of them. In the past though they were hidden behind code terms, like “states’ rights”. Now they are out in the open for all to see. Their racism is now explicit, not implicit while the nation keeps coloring up.

And yet, Cohen’s testimony feels like the beginning of the end. Cohen provided a tableau of people for Congress to call on to testify. With the House in Democratic hands, these people no longer have a choice on whether they want to testify. Deutsche Bank is now cooperating with Congress in its attempt to figure out how Trump was getting his financing, a supposed red line for Trump. Trump’s tax returns will soon be demanded and must be provided under law to the House upon request. Now the whole Trump Empire is subject to congressional subpoena and much of it can be examined in public testimony. “Rat” (a term Trump used that is only used by mobsters) Michael Cohen has provided many names, places to look and questions for Congress to ask. He should know, since he spent more than ten years at its center. We can also expect more indictments from Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York too, not to mention at some point a report from Mueller on his findings.

While it’s unclear if the Justice Department would charge Trump while in office, he can no longer realistically expect to escape justice. While Trump waits though, justice can still reach his underlings. It’s likely to reach Trump’s entire inner core including Roger Stone, Don Jr., Ivanka and son-in-law Kushner. And since justice takes time, it’s unlikely that Trump will be president when their cases could potentially become pardonable. And when Trump is out of office, he’s only pardonable by a successor, who is unlikely to be sympathetic to what looks like many crimes.

It took about eighteen months of testimony and work before the Watergate committees grew into the resignation of President Nixon. With his testimony, Michael Cohen has set in motion a snowball on a hill destined to crush many people beneath it as it cascades down the hill. Cohen demonstrated this week he knows just where to let his snowball drop. Now we just need time and patience.

Trump is an illegitimate president

The Thinker by Rodin

The day of Donald Trump’s election is certainly seared in my mind, as it is in most Americans’. Like most people, including apparently Donald Trump, I thought Hillary Clinton had the thing locked up. And she did if we elected presidents by popular vote: she won by three millions votes. Trump’s lopsided win in the Electoral College was made possible by margins of about 4000 votes in Pennsylvania, 10,000 votes in Michigan and 22,000 votes in Wisconsin. Had Clinton won those states she would have squeaked a win of 273-258 in the Electoral College.

That night was surreal and every day since has been too. I didn’t sleep that night but the next day I felt that our country had fundamentally changed. As someone not given to conspiracy theories, I felt his election had to be something of a fluke. But based on what we now know, it’s clear that Donald Trump was not fairly elected and is hence an illegitimate president.

I’ll grant you that Hillary Clinton was a poor candidate. If you want to win, a party should never nominate a candidate with negative likability scores. But Trump’s were just as bad. Two really unpopular candidates were nominated. No surprise then that, like in 2000, so many on the margins voted third party. Libertarian party candidate Johnson got 3% and Green party candidate Stein got 1%.

Events this week though show clearly that the odds were unfairly and illegally stacked to elect Trump. With these tiny margins in three swing states, it’s quite likely that had Americans known that Trump had paid off at least two mistresses before the vote that our national nightmare would not now be underway.

This Tuesday of course both Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort were convicted of multiple felonies each. Cohen directly implicated Trump, making him effectively an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump were a nobody instead of president, he too would have been indicted for these campaign finance violations, a felony. Cohen of course should have never participated in this crime, but he would have never had the temptation had Trump not directed him to do so.

Then there are the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump. It’s also clear that at least some in the Trump campaign, specifically Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen attended a meeting with Russians for the express purpose of learning dirt on Hillary Clinton. Since just hours after the meeting Trump tweeted that there would be forthcoming dirt on Hillary, it really sounds like he was in the know too. I expect that these links will come out in time and we’ll discover genuine conspiracy.

In any event, it was not a free and fair election. The Trump campaign did not play by the rules. And it was enough, by a tiny margin, to swing the election. There were of course other acts, arguably legal but morally repugnant, that helped as well. These included voter suppression efforts and making people in certain precincts wait inordinately long to cast a vote. It’s impossible to say if the election had been fair that Trump would still have won. But it is clear that by playing dirty and by participating in illegal activities, things that voters should have known were not known and probably would have changed a lot of votes. Former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement late in the campaign that the FBI was reopening its investigation the Clinton investigation, against FBI policy so close to an election, obviously had some influence too.

While it’s surprising to me that Trump won, it’s not surprising to me that the Trump campaign fought dirty. Trump hasn’t changed at all. He always jumps first and expects not to pay a consequence. He attracts people with similar inclinations, which apparently consist of virtually the entire Republican Party. Unlike Richard Nixon, he is likely to escape the political consequences of these actions because Republicans show no inclination to put country before party, which they did in the Watergate era. I remember.

Still, karma may pay Donald Trump a visit at last. While he is unlikely to be forced from office, he is likely to get impeached (but not removed from office) if Democrats retake the house this November. Also, Trump has a history of bailing when things get too bad. Thus it’s quite possible that when the evidence of his guilt becomes overwhelming he will resign in a fit of pique.

His behavior this week has been his most bizarre to date; he is clearly under great psychological strain. Even if he can escape impeachment and removal, he is likely to be charged with crimes in the state of New York, most likely for running his charity in an illegal manner but quite possibly for money laundering too. He can’t pardon himself or his lackeys out of state charges. At best he can only defer these trials until he is out of office. It’s quite possible that Trump will spend years in prison after leaving office, a dubious first for a U.S. president.

As far as his reputation is concerned, he can now never escape having an asterisk next to his name in the ranks of U.S. presidents. The footnote will have to note that his election was likely illegitimate. Trump accused Barack Obama of being an illegitimate president because he asserted that he was born in Kenya. Oh the irony that his accuser will forever live with this asterisk, and with overwhelming evidence that will show him to be the worst U.S. president in history.

Rest easier, Richard Nixon.

The dumbest thing about the Goldstone email to Trump Jr.

The Thinker by Rodin

(Note: first published here on DailyKos. Minor edits were made.)

So Donald J. Trump Jr. released the email that publicist Rob Goldstone sent him last year yesterday, along with his reply. Any lawyers among my readers were probably thinking, “What a stupid thing to do!” Trump Jr. probably figured that someone else would release it shortly so maybe there was some benefit of being the first to do so. It sure took everyone by surprise, including possibly his newly hired lawyer. Anyhow, it sure looks dumb. I was dumbstruck by the deed and Trump Sr. is reportedly furious.

Keystone Kops
Keystone Kops

I’m not a lawyer. I’m in Information Technology. And to me the stupidest thing of all was that Rob Goldstone used email to reach Trump Jr. Email! What the hell was he thinking? He compounded his error by giving the email the title (and I swear I’m not making this up):

Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

If you know much about email, you know that a lot of the world’s email goes across the Internet unencrypted, at least between certain points in the network between mail servers. The major email providers have upped the ante, fortunately. GMail encrypts end to end, but if some part of the email was sent through an unencrypted network it lets you know (at least in the web version) with a little unlocked “padlock” icon.

Using email was an amazingly stupid thing to do. I doubt Goldstone was being directed by the Russians to contact the Trump campaign on such a sensitive matter this way, but who knows? In any event if you are going to send a sensitive email you don’t fill the subject line with such lurid keywords.

The Internet leaves traces, and email in particular leaves traces. Emails usually collect in the outgoing email servers, and in places in between emails are often archived. One of those places might have been a NSA computer room. If the NSA were sniffing for information like this, well, they hardly had to do much work. Trump Jr.’s email address was there, it came from a known friend of the Trumps, and it came with a subject line that would automatically flag it. Perhaps the email was already known to the FBI as it got flagged by the NSA but was classified because of the sources and methods involved.

Trump Jr.’s response was classic too. Anyone with half a brain would have raised a red flag, probably reported it internally and to the FBI as well, not replied to it. Obviously there’s a lot of tone deafness in the Trump campaign, administration and family and a feeling they are somehow exempt from the rules.

I don’t do subterfuge, but if given a task like this instead of sending an email I’d be picking up the phone. I might allude to some information Trump Jr. would find very interesting, but it had to be shared in person and, oh, bring Jared and Paul. I’d suggest meeting for lunch in a quiet cubby at a local Ruth’s Chris.

In any event, it gives the whole incident a Keystone Kops surreal feel. It’s beyond amateur. It’s embarrassing. Even Putin gets slimed here. Is this the best he and his FSB can do? I expected they were way less inept than they apparently are.

Trump’s collapsing house of cards

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s quite ironic that one of Netflix’s best series House of Cards is playing out in real life in the White House. Donald Trump of course is no Frank Underwood. He has zero political experience and since getting into office has not acquired any either. Watching him bumble his way through the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany last week was painful. Emblematic of the outcome were the logistics leading up to the meeting. This doesn’t bode well I thought when I learned that Trump and his staff waited too long to book accommodations in Hamburg. Trump ended up at a German government guest residency. Trump’s staff apparently holed up with the U.S. Consulate General. Maybe they brought sleeping bags and camped out on the floor. Trump either couldn’t be bothered to absorb his briefings or more likely got them and promptly forgot the key points. He winged his way through the whole meeting looking weirder and more ostracized as it progressed.

Given his incurious and bumbling nature, I should not be too surprised that these traits seem to apply to his family and advisers as well. The Trump Empire, such as it is, seems to be all about show, but is little on substance. His hotels and resorts are sometimes profitable, but more often leave investors in the lurch. Just last week Trump’s shuttered Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City began a liquidation sale. The Trump façade is going. The new owners will try to turn it into something more mainstream and likely more profitable, and attaching the Trump brand to the property is like a millstone around the neck, so it had to go. Hard Rock International bought the property for a bargain basement $50M. Bear in mind its construction cost about $930M.

In any event, the Trumps operate mostly on instinct and not much on common sense. They seem to believe they are exempt from most rules and if not it’s just a matter of money to put their problems behind them. With a White House in chaos it’s not surprising that someone dropped the ball on hotel rooms at the G-20. Trump naturally blames it on the Obama Administration, as if it’s the job of previous administrations to handle logistics of current administrations. So it certainly didn’t surprise me that Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in June 2016 met with a woman with Russian connections and was lured to a meeting by a promise of dirty laundry on the Clinton campaign. Junior’s disappointment seemed to be that the Russian did not deliver the goods. However, the expectation that she would was enough to bring Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner to the meeting too. Like his father, Junior made the problem worse by admitting that’s why he agreed to meet. That looks like an unprofitable mistake, as Junior has since lawyered up.

When the New York Times article came out, I thought there goes the first domino. Finally there is evidence that ties a Trump to the Russian government, albeit somewhat indirectly. Bear in mind that for anyone with any political experience, even the suggestion of a meeting like this would have sent campaign officials running the other way, and probably calling the FBI to report the incident. Colluding with a foreign government to influence an election is a crime. Junior has pretty much admitted it, which means it’s just a matter of time before an indictment against him is issued. Junior’s only real hope is that his father remains president long enough so he can pardon him, which is the likely outcome. Trump will likely be issuing lots of pardons before he is removed from office. Meanwhile, Junior will be financing his attorney’s new yacht.

Usually when a domino falls it doesn’t take long for the next one to fall. This one came just a day later with another New York Times story, this one claiming that Junior knew in an email before the meeting that the Russian government was trying to influence the Trump campaign. The story behind both these stories though is the more interesting news: the information came from people in the White House. Multiple people inside the White House are now so alarmed by what they know that they are actively working to remove their boss. We’ll likely learn the names of these Deep Throats in time. Apparently job security is not a concern, or it’s less a concern than acting on what they feel is their patriotic duty.

That these first two dominoes fell is not a surprise. That more will fall won’t be a surprise either. Something will implicate Trump directly, likely sooner rather than later. During the campaign Trump said he hoped the Russians would provide Clinton’s missing emails, a curiously timed thing as it happened shortly after this meeting at Trump Tower. He campaigned on a friendlier relationship with Russia and seemed unconcerned that they had taken over Crimea and Russian paramilitary forces had captures much of eastern Ukraine.

Trump is clearly no Frank Underwood. He doesn’t know how to be devious. The fictional Underwood built his house of cards on something of a firm foundation: with safety checks and sycophants stupid enough to take the fall for him. It appears that Trump and the Trump campaign simply weren’t smart enough to worry about these exposures. Which means their house of cards is flimsy indeed. No surprise then that not quite six months into his administration it is collapsing under its own weight.

Here’s one edifice that deserves demolition, and the sooner the better. The irony is that Trump is likely to end up impaling himself. This would be a fitting end to the most brazenly crooked administration in history. Expect more and bigger dominoes to keep falling and to fall more quickly.