Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 26, 2018 8:25 pm

Trump and the week that was

Donald Trump had such an awful week that it has taken me until tonight to begin to write about it. No American president has taken so many body blows in a single five-day period without getting shot.

On Tuesday, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight felony counts, with the jury hung on another 10. Juror Paula Duncan, a staunch Trump supporter, called the government’s case “overwhelming” and said only a single juror prevented the panel from convicting Manafort on all 18 counts.

The charges against Manafort, in the Eastern District of Virginia, didn’t have anything directly to do with the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with the Russians to throw the 2016 election. But Manafort, who is likely to die in prison unless he cooperates, also faces trial in the District of Columbia starting Sept. 17 on charges related to his foreign lobbying work and witness tampering. Some of those charges may relate more directly to the Trump campaign.

Also Tuesday, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose phones and computer records the government seized months ago, was charged with and pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of tax fraud, making false statements to a bank, and committing campaign-finance violations to try to keep news of two Trump affairs out of the public eye. In his plea agreement, a sworn statement accepted by the judge, Cohen confessed that “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” he kept information that would have been harmful to the candidate and the campaign from becoming public by paying two women who had slept with Trump “hush money.”

The “candidate for federal office” was Trump, who, by virtue of this plea agreement, becomes an unindicted co-conspirator. The last one of those we had in the Oval Office was Nixon.

Those two developments on the same day would have been bad enough. But the week wasn’t done with Trump yet. On Friday came the news that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, had been granted immunity. Publicly, the agreement was described as relating only to the payments Cohen described in his plea agreement.

But I’d be stunned if that’s all that the Southern District of New York was interested in, because witnesses don’t get blanket immunity from the government based on two discrete six-figure payments. Weisselberg originally was hired by Trump’s late father, Fred, in 1978 and has been with the organization ever since. He is a trustee of the trust that holds Trump’s personal holdings. He knows EVERYTHING about both Trump Organization finances and Donald Trump’s personal finances. And for him to have gotten the immunity he got means that he’s going to tell the government everything.

Also Friday, David Pecker, CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, was granted immunity in relation to the hush money payments Cohen made.

The Enquirer allegedly used a tactic known as “catch-and-kill” — when a publication buys the rights to a damaging story for the purpose of sitting on it and keeping that story out of the news.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the magazine even had a location where records of these payments were stored: a safe full of documents, not only relating to Trump, but similar “catch-and-kill” deals with other celebrities.

“By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return,” the AP reports.

And keep in mind that back in June, the New York Attorney General’s office sued the Trump Foundation and its board of directors (Trump family members), alleging violations of both state and federal law with respect to, among other things, illegal coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign and self-dealing. It is entirely possible that criminal charges against Trump and his kids will result from this lawsuit, and Trump can’t pardon anyone for state charges.

Taken together, these events make clear that whatever the government wants to know about support of the 2016 Trump campaign by the Russians, it is going to find out. The information already in the public record makes clear there’s plenty to find out.

Personally, I think that there already is enough evidence in the public record to impeach Trump — certainly on grounds of violation of the Emoluments Clause and the Take-Care Clause at least. But I’m realistic enough to know that most Americans don’t know that and that many of those who know don’t care. So I think that Democrats campaigning this fall should campaign on accountability for the administration generally rather than impeachment of Trump in particular. And I also think that any articles of impeachment should be based on one or more completed House investigative reports (assuming Democrats retake the House), a completed Mueller report, or both.

I think this week was less the beginning of the end than the end of the beginning for Trump. He has talked about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Mueller investigation (properly so) after the November midterms. The idea would be for him to install a new attorney general who could oversee, and perhaps shut down, the Mueller investigation. I think he’ll do that and that nationwide protests will break out as a result. But I also suspect that Mueller has anticipated this course of action and planned accordingly. I don’t know what his response would look like, but I am confident that he has one. Even if he does not, it would be far harder for Trump to interfere with the investigation housed in the Southern District of New York than to interfere with Mueller. And, of course, Trump has no control whatsoever over the New York Attorney General’s office.

Trump’s avenues of escape are being closed off one by one. My wife has been saying from the beginning that all of this ends with Trump in Moscow, voluntarily or otherwise, and I think that’s right. But I also think Trump will face indictment, articles of impeachment, or both first. And I look forward to those as we work to oust this traitor and criminal from the presidency.

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