Trump, Cohen, Manafort and History

August 21, 2018 is a historic day. It marked the turning point in the Robert Mueller investigation. It is a turning point In modern American history.

This was not a good day for President Donald J. Trump, There was a trifecta of legal events that do not bode well for his presidency. Michael Cohen pled guilty, in a series of crimes, that implicated the President of the United States. Among them that they tried to kill two stories, involving women, with hush money. This is a campaign finance violation. And yes, people have gone to jail for those.

Specifically via de Justice Department:

Consistent with the agreement described above, Corporation-1 advised COHEN of negative stories during the course of the campaign, and COHEN, with the assistance of Corporation-1, was able to arrange for the purchase of two stories so as to suppress them and prevent them from influencing the election.

It implicates the publisher of AMI, David Pecker. Incidentally, when all is said and done, Pecker will have to chose sides. This case also implicates him, a fact that most media seems to have missed. Yes, the president was named, by Cohen in his statement to the court, as a candidate for federal office. But Pecker is the chair of this corporation. Pekcer likely has a lot of dirt on Trump since he has engaged in many instances of “catch and capture.” Meaning the rights to news stories were bought by his tabloid empire, with the objective of suppressing them.

What is also very significant is that Cohen, in open court, said that this was done in coordination with a candidate for federal office. This is person one in the charging papers. It takes little imagination, Unless yo have been hiding under a rock, to know this is President Trump.And one of the women in that is Stormy Daniels and her original lawyers.

There is more:

“Michael Cohen knows information that would be of interest to the Special Counsel regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI,” said Davis.

This will cast Cohen in a familiar place for students of history. Cohen is our guide to the misdeeds of the House of Trump. And if you are Trump, Cohen has become a John Dean like “Rat.” Incidentally, you know who else uses that term? If you guessed the mafia, you’d be correct. We know this not just from popular media, such as the Sopranos, More than a few former federal prosecutors have said this on national media. Yes, they are acting in a partisan manner, to a point,. But there is something to acting guilty and Trump is showing all the signs of it. Moreover, this language is not normal, nor is it presidential. It is the speech of a man who only cares about number one.

Incidentally, Donald Trump is now an un-indicted co-conspirator. It takes little for the imagination, since it is clear from the charging papers. So is David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, who is also alluded in the charging documents. This will place Pecker in legal jeopardy, and likely will offer a point of pressure for the special prosecutor. The last time we saw this affecting the office of the presidency was with Richard Milhaud Nixon…and Watergate.

So far we have seen Trump’s defenders paint Cohen as a liar, an indicted felon (duh!), and a person who cannot be trusted. It also took some time for Republicans to realize that Watergate was a real problem. So perhaps Republicans will get their senses back and realize this is real and very serious. More on that bellow.

If this was just Cohen it would have been a bad day for Trump.

Within the hour Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts involving his financial dealings. He is facing a long prison term, in the order of eighty years, and the justice system is starting to work. This was the first of two trials, and likely the next will also lead to a conviction for the Mueller team. The next may directly implicate the president of the United States.This trial indirectly did already.

Danger Ahead….

The emerging facts are pointing to the subversion of American politics by both internal and external forces. Trump was pursuing ultimate power. His naked ambition was used by Vladimir Putin, who I may remind the reader is t he only man the president of the United States dare not be critical off. In my view, Trump is a tool, wittingly or not, of Russia. This is unprecedented in American politics. It was one reason for the Emoluments clause of the constitution. The founders knew that capture was possible, and did all they could to prevent it.

The president also believes that his position in society allows him a certain level of both respect and privilege. Trump believes he is above the law. And this is not because he is the president, Rather it is because he is extremely wealthy, and as many members of his class he has bought his way out of trouble in the past. What prevents him from doing it now? This was what Cohen did for the Trump family. He was the ever present loyal to a fault fixer. Loyalty should have gone both ways. It did not, so the fixer is singing.

Unlike Nixon for Trump the presidency is not about service, or country. It is a means to an end, and about himself. And while Nixon was a paranoid proto -authoritarian, Trump is an authoritarian. In this respect he makes Nixon look like a nice man who loved his country and would do nothing wrong. And yes, Nixon would probably celebrate his leaving the stage as the classical villain of modern American history. Trump has given us plenty of signals regarding his views in this regard.

Trump said this after Xi Xin Ping changed the Chinese constitution to make him president for life, as reported by the Washington Post among others:

“He’s now president for life,” President Trump told supporters this past weekend. “President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

The other leaders he admires are people like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Vladimir Putin (no surprise there) of Russia, Kim Jun Un of North Korea, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, of Egypt, and until recently Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. We are in a tit for tat with Turkey at the moment. It seems the president is angry that the Turks arrested an American priest, who may, or may have nothing to do with the attempted coup some years back.

What all these men have in common is that they are strong authoritarian rulers. They are classic authoritarians, as there is a difference with inverted totalitarianism as described by Sheldon Wolin. Theirs is a total power. The US developed into a managed democracy, which allowed for the rise of Trump./ Suffice it to say these are the people who the president admires. It gets worse. The president does not believe in the system of checks and balances. This is what he told Fox News after his first 100 days, as reported by the UK Independent:

In an interview with Fox News to mark the milestone, the Republican called the system of checks and balances on power “archaic”.

“It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.”

It is precisely this division of powers and checks and balances that will tighten the screws on the president. This will lead to a deeper crisis,. After all, what is a president who does not believe in the division of power do? What is a president who believes we should have a president for life, with no limits to do? Will he try to consolidate power any further?

What is his political party to do? May I remind readers that Republicans supposedly worship the constitution almost as if it was given by god at Sinai? This also means that modifying the document, which the founders expected, is becoming increasingly difficult.

For the moment, this day of indictments, and convictions also included Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr, representing CA 50, and the second Trump supporter in Congress. He was indicted, with his wife, for the misuse of campaign funds (I admit, my favorite part of that saga was the family rabbit flying first class.) They stand accused of serious mismanagement and criminality using money for personal expenses. And we are not talking minor things. We are talking trips to Hawaii, and game subscriptions.

So perhaps with the indictment of two of his strongest defenders in Congress, the rest of the party will decide that Trump comes with extreme personal costs. Remember, Chris Collins was the first to go, a couple weeks ago.

In the sick mind of a classic authoritarian this is the deep state attacking them and getting even. It is the justice system, that archaic system of checks and balances, spreading its wings. The president believes this is a witch hunt, and continues to use that language. He did nothing wrong, and he knows that. Expect him to become even more angry and to lash out.

The president has more than once said that he wants to fire Robert Mueller and his team. He considers them (rightfully so) a danger to his presidency. As they continue to sniff around, they uncover more illegality. Never mind, that to quote John Dean, there is a cancer growing on the presidency, and it is not the Mueller team.

One way for the president to take the power to investigate away is precisely what Trump did to John Brennan. If he removes the security clearances by presidential fiat from the investigators, he would effectively neuter them. The team needs those, since a lot of the material they are dealing with is very sensitive. The other is that he could plain out force the Justice Department to fire the team, and Rod Rosenstein, and put in their place loyalists. Either would deepen the crisis we are in.

Many in the media still refuse to call this what it is, a deep constitutional crisis Partly I suspect, it is the lack of appreciation as to how deep this already is. Partly, they were the best cheerleaders (for train wrecks lead to eyeballs on screen) of the candidate during the campaign. There was literally no rally they could miss. It was very good for ratings, and the business of selling eye balls to add sellers.

It is deeper than that though. American elites cannot admit to themselves just how deep the hole has become. They cannot see how far we have gone down that rabbit hole. We are on the edge of failure for our democratic system.

Public-opinion polling shows that Trump’s low opinion of American elections has practically become Republican Party orthodoxy. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, Republicans have an “unprecedented” level of “concern and mistrust in the system.” Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters believe that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, it’ll be due to fraud. In both this poll and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, only half of Republicans say they’d accept a Clinton victory. (In the latter poll, by contrast, 82 percent of Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory.)

We know that this is also connected to race and status loss. Democracy can be dangerous, especially when it confers rights and benefits to previously controlled minorities. Ergo, whites are losing their love for democracy

This is consistent with the rise of classic authoritarianism in mid twentieth century Europe. Whether it was the Russian Soviet under Joseph Stalin, or Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, or Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime. They all relied on the promise of a better future for the selected few, who were lucky enough to be part of the in group. Those outside, were to be cleansed or driven out.

This is one of the many danger we face. That the persecuted and paranoid leader will use those fears to short circuit the legal system. In effect, that leader will become the essential man. And if you doubt it, Roger Stone even used the language of a possible second civil war. He did this in an interview with Newsweek.

I ask him to clarify. “If there is an illegal attempt to remove the president,” he says, “you’re going to have a civil war in this country.” Meaning actual violence? “There’s white-hot hatred for Trump,” Stone answers, “and there is white-hot opposition to an attempt to [re]move him. Anything that is judged to be doctored or cooked up, it’s not going to go well.”

There were fears of something similar happening during Watergate. Some of Nixon’s supporters never left him, even after he resigned. Anecdotally I have met a few. They usually speak highly of Nixon for his foreign accomplishments (of which there were more than a few, so far we have nothing with Trump.) And then there was the question asked by Congress to the military, what would the military do? The answer was to protect the Constitution. The military takes an oath to a document, not a man. Their answer I expect to be similar these days.

So will Trump trigger a deeper crisis by declaring himself a unitary ruler, who is above the law? Or will the country survive the present crisis? This is not 1974, and I doubt Trump will go gracefully. And I include the promise of a pardon, which was a mistake then, and would be a mistake now. So will Republicans put their party ahead of their president? I understand Supreme Court justices are nice. So are tax cuts, and perhaps finally gutting the New Deal. But is the present crisis worth all that? Or as I suspect, they cannot put the country ahead of Trump because they are also implicated.

So yes, August 21, 2018 is a critical day in American history. How it will turn out in the end is still to be seen. But we are now gone though an inflection point. Whether that is for the Trump administration and the rule of law, or the end of the republic is still to be decided.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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