Thursday Reads: An Illegitimate and Embattled “President”Posted: August 23, 2018
This morning the illegitimate “president” appeared on his favorite TV program, “Fox and Friends.” During his interview with Ainsley Earhardt, he sounded like a cross between an aging mob boss who with dementia and small child who believes the world revolves around him and his needs. Some lowlights:
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Tries to Deny His Crime With Cohen, Confesses by Mistake.
[On Tuesday], President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed in open court to committing a crime at Trump’s direction. The crime is violating campaign finance law, by using Trump’s personal funds for a campaign-related expense (paying hush money to his mistresses)….
Trump insisted he is in the clear because the payments “weren’t taken out of campaign finance … They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me.”
That is not a defense. That is why it’s a crime. If the money came from the campaign, it would have been legal.
In the clip Trump says that he tweeted about the payments, as if that has some kind of deep significance.
In context, Trump appears to be trying to say that this exonerates him, but the opposite is the case — you can’t just evade campaign finance rules by paying for your campaign expenses with non-campaign funds. If you could, the rules would be meaningless….
…while a private citizen is free to make a secret hush money payment to his former mistress if he likes, a political campaign is required to disclose what it’s spending money on. If Trump had reported a cash payment to Stormy Daniels to the Federal Election Commission, that would have naturally raised questions about why he was paying her and somewhat defeat the purpose of making hush money payments in the first place. So what Trump and Cohen seem to have decided to do is avoid using campaign money, thus allowing them to avoid disclosure rules.
But just like lying on the disclosure form would be illegal and refusing to do the disclosure would be illegal, paying for campaign expenses out of a non-campaign account and then declining to report that as a contribution to the campaign is also illegal.
Simply put, there is no legal way to spend money on your election campaign without disclosing that fact.
But Trump also argued in the interview that all politicians commit campaign finance violations and it’s really no big deal.
He also indicated he’s thinking of pardoning Paul Manafort because everyone in Washington does the things that Manafort was convicted of this week. USA Today:
Trump, during the interview, tried to dismiss some of the eight charges Manafort was convicted in, saying he was guilty of things everyone in Washington “probably does.”
“I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does,” the president said.
Trump discussed prosecutors “flipping” people accused of crimes to get evidence on bigger fish, and said this practice is “unfair” and should be illegal. He seemed to suggest that Michael Cohen is weak for pleading guilty while Manafort is courageous because he refused to turn on Trump.
Trump said his longtime fixer was just “one of many” lawyers he had who helped him handle both big and small deals over about a decade. He characterized Cohen working for him only “part-time.”
“I always found him to be a nice guy,” Trump said. But that has changed, he said, because investigators found crimes tied to Cohen’s taxi businesses, leading to his former lawyer “flipping.”
Cohen had a choice, Trump said. He could receive a harsh sentence or “make up stories” and “become a national hero.”
The president said the two campaign violations aren’t even crimes, information he learned from watching TV news, he said….
“I know all about flipping,” the president said. “Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is.”
He added “it’s not fair” and “it almost ought to be outlawed” because it encourages people to “make up stories.”
Of course Trump took the opportunity to bash the media. Hollywood Reporter: Donald Trump Obsesses Over Press “Lunatics” In ‘Fox & Friends’ Interview.
“The New York Times cannot write a good story about me. They’re crazed. They’re like lunatics,” he whined to Ainsley Earhardt.
He ticked off his list of complaints:
His summit with North Korea ruler Kim Jong Un was “a great success.”
“And if you remember, the only thing [the press] got me on, they said ‘he spoke , he met’… I didn’t give him anything. I gave him nothing except sanctions, okay?” Trump said.
“My meeting with Putin was a tremendous success, I got killed by the fake news. They wanted me to go up and punch him in the face. I said I want to get along with Russia. I want to get along with everybody.”
“NATO, I raised of hundreds of billions of dollars from these countries that weren’t paying, they were delinquent, they weren’t paying their bills. The press doesn’t like to talk about that, the press talks about the fact that I insulted a lot of the leaders because I was strong on the fact that they had to pay.”
The only thing on which he is doing badly, Trump said, is “the press doesn’t cover me fairly.”
Trump also threatened that if he were impeached the economy would go down the tubes. The Associated Press reports:
President Donald Trump says he believes the economy would tank if he were to be impeached.
Trump was asked in an interview with “Fox & Friends” if he believes Democrats will launch impeachment proceedings if they win the House this fall, as many suspect.
He says, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor.”
Trump says Americans would see economic “numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”
But Trump is also expressing doubt that that would ever happen.
He says, “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
The Fox interview was taped early yesterday. Late last night the Wall Street Journal broke the news that David Pecker, Trump’s long-time friend and publisher of The National Enquirer is cooperating with the Southern District of New York in the Cohen case.
David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, provided prosecutors with details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged with women who alleged sexual encounters with President Trump, including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals….
Investigators quickly zeroed in on Mr. Cohen’s relationship with American Media, including its role brokering deals on behalf of Mr. Trump. Mr. Pecker had been an open supporter of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Prosecutors say Mr. Pecker offered to help keep quiet negative stories about Mr. Trump that might come to the National Enquirer, a practice in the business known as “catch and kill.”
American Media executives were involved in both hush-money deals that formed the basis of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to campaign-finance violations, prosecutors said on Tuesday. One was a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford—a former porn star who goes professionally by Stormy Daniels—as part of an agreement to keep her from publicly discussing an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. The payment was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in January.
The second was a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her exclusive story of an alleged extramarital affair with Mr. Trump, a story that was purchased by American Media in August 2016 at Mr. Cohen’s urging, and then never published. The payment was first reported by the Journal in November 2016.
The story doesn’t seem to be behind the paywall–at least I got through. It’s very interesting; it’s mostly about what led Cohen to plead guilty and implicate Trump. Here’s just one more tidbit:
On April 5, days before the raids, Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One he didn’t know about the payment to Ms. Clifford, and referred questions about the matter to Mr. Cohen. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” Mr. Trump said. “Michael is my attorney.”
Mr. Cohen, who that night was staying aboard the yacht of Trump donor Franklin Haney, which was docked in Miami, grew irate on the ship soon after Mr. Trump made his remarks distancing himself from the Clifford payment, according to a person familiar with the episode. Mr. Cohen was swearing loudly as others on the boat were sipping their drinks, the person said.
More on the Pecker story from The Washington Post: Trump campaign, tabloid publisher hatched plan to bury damaging stories, Cohen prosecutors allege.
In August 2015, David Pecker and Michael Cohen hatched a plan to help a mutual friend in need.
Donald Trump had launched his improbable presidential campaign just two months earlier. His relationship with New York tabloids had been legendary through two divorces. Embarrassing stories about the former reality-show star were a regular occurrence.
But now Trump was in a crowded primary against establishment Republicans. Pecker, the chief executive of a tabloid publishing company; Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer; and at least one member of the Trump campaign came up with a system that month to bury negative stories about the candidate, according to charging documents made public in connection with Cohen’s guilty plea Tuesday.
According to the documents, Pecker assured Cohen that he would help deal with rumors related to Trump’s relationships with women by essentially turning his tabloid operation into a research arm of the Trump campaign, identifying potentially damaging stories and, when necessary, buying the silence of the women who wanted to tell them.
The charging documents allege that Pecker and his company, American Media Inc., owner of the National Enquirer, were more deeply and deliberately involved in the effort to help the Trump campaign than was previously known. AMI also played a key role in the effort to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels, prosecutors allege.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Maggie Haberman reports in her latest gossip column that Trump was subdued after Tuesday’s monumental events:
On Air Force One on Tuesday night on the way back from a rally in West Virginia, Mr. Trump repeatedly minimized the news, telling aides that the legal developments were not about him, but about Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen. He also groused over the optics of the rally, telling a person close to him that the crowd seemed flat and that some chairs were empty….
People who have known Mr. Trump for years pointed out that he has never been as cornered — or as isolated — as he is right now, and that he is at his most dangerous when he feels backed against the wall. They pointed to his reaction after the “Access Hollywood” tape of him boasting of grabbing women’s genitals was released in October 2016. Mr. Trump responded by parading Bill Clinton’s female accusers in front of Hillary Clinton at the presidential debate in St. Louis, and acted like a man with nothing to lose.
This dynamic has led Mr. Trump to publicly praise — and privately muse about pardoning — Mr. Manafort.
I’ll end with this piece at Politico by Michael Kruse: ‘He’s Unraveling’: Why Cohen’s Betrayal Terrifies Trump.
He has called himself a “great loyalty freak.” He has said he values loyalty “above everything else—more than brains, more than drive.” And one of his greatest strengths, at least of a certain sort, always has been his ability to engender unwavering, slavish, even sycophantic allegiance. But it’s also been so brutally, consistently one-sided, and the Cohen flip brings to the fore the fragility of Trump’s transactional brand of loyalty and potentially its ultimate incompatibility with the presidency. This is not some tabloid or Twitter tit-for-tat. The stakes are of course incomparably higher. And Trump’s long span of quiet about Cohen was so out of character it suggested even he understands the reality of his legal jeopardy. For the first time, it appeared, a once biddable lapdog had turned around and bitten the boss—hard.
“He is terrified,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me early Wednesday morning. “This is 40 years of deceit coming home to torment him.”
Former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell called the current situation “a dangerous road” for Trump. “For once in his life,” O’Donnell told me a little before 9 a.m., “he should listen to his advisers, and just keep his mouth closed.”
“Once in a while, and that is very, very rarely, Trump does what he is told,” former Trump Organization executive vice president Barbara Res said around the same time. “I am sure he is chomping at the bit to lash out at Cohen, but we all know that would be disastrous.”
And then …
… he started tweeting (and talking).
Evidently unable to restrain himself, he urged his nearly 54 million followers in a sad bleat of a tweet to not hire Cohen, as if this were a moment for a Yelp-like review of an attorney. He impugned his truthfulness as well as his fortitude, and he dubiously concluded that Cohen’s admitted campaign finance violations allegedly committed in concert with the president himself “are not a crime.”
“He is unraveling,” Res said.
Read the rest at Politico.
So . . . I wonder what horrors will happen today? What are you reading and hearing?