What kind of a day was it? A day like any other -- except...You Are There.
Just another normal day in Trump Land. His nominee to head Veteran Affairs dropped out over charges of excessive drunkenness and improper distribution of meds. His Secretary of the EPA was dragged over the coals for ethics violations in a House hearing and told he should resign. His controversial nominee to be Secretary of State got approved -- and nobody noticed because the day was so maniacal. Paul Ryan actually fired the House Chaplain...for reasons unknown. (Bill Cosby getting convicted of three counts of sexual abuse doesn't even count as an administration story -- although the fact that jurors believed women under oath from years before can't be good news for Trump...)
But for all these stories yesterday and lesser ones, I'm going to jump past them all and go straight the Trump Meltdown on Fox & Friends, which many news stories referred to as "bat sh*t crazy." (Salon, on the other hand, referred Io it as Trump "throwing himself under the bus.) It's difficult to point to just one single thing in the unwieldy, maniacal half hour to explain how disastrous it was for Trump, there was so much, but I think the most telling moment is that after 27 minutes, as he just was getting warmed-up ranting, the "Fox News" hosts actually cut him off and said, "We have to go, Mr. President."
(How bad was it? Trump noting that the only thing he got for his wife's birthday birthday that very day was a "beautiful card" doesn't even register on the Debacle-o-Meter. Here's hoping though that he doesn't try on her the excuse he gave to the TV hosts. "I'm very busy to be running out looking for presents." Not too busy to call a TV show and rant for a half-hour would probably be her response. And besides, who here think Trump went out and bought the card? All this after noting, "And she did a fantastic job with France," he said. And his thank you for hosting the President and First Lady of France at a state dinner? A beautiful card. And some flowers. Yes, that will go over great. But that was just an asterisk on the phone call.)
It was disastrously bad. Yet for how horrible as it was...I think it was even worse than generally got reported. Because most reports understandably focused on the Very Worst Revelations. A huge amount of self-inflicted damage. But there was a lot more that was was as bad, just more subtle so that you had to get on your knees and dig a bit to find it. Meanwhile, the worst was like big diamonds just laying on the surface that you could pick up without breaking a sweat.
But let's start at the beginning.
As maniacal as the whole call-in was, what got the most attention -- and deservedly so -- was Trump undercutting his legal defense in the Michael Cohen raid. That defense, for which Trump had just hired two new lawyers was that all the material taken shouldn't be used because of attorney-client privilege. Yet on the air Trump said that Cohen did only a "tiny little fraction" of legal work for him. Which if that is the case, then pretty much all the recovered documents wouldn't be lawyer-related to Trump and therefore be unprotected.
(Yes, Trump had actually been able to find two new lawyers who agreed to take him on as a client, though he had to go outside the D.C. Beltway to come across them, down to a tiny firm in Florida. It seems likely today that they're already regretting that decision.)
But that's only the beginning of the bizarre part. Because when asked by a TV host why Michael Cohen would plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, Trump explained that it was because of Cohen's outside business work, repeating endlessly that Cohen had a lot of outside business work, a lot, though Trump made sure you were aware he didn't know what that work was. "This has nothing to do with me," he said, adding that “I’m not involved and I’ve been told I’m not involved.”
For all the coverage that this stunning phone call got, a few important things got overlooked and unmentioned at the expense of the major headline items. And one of the most important relates to that, what he just said there
First, I suspect that there is a great deal Trump is not told about, so as to not upset him. (Seriously, who wanted to say, "Er, no, sir, that wasn't the biggest Inaugural ever, half the fairgrounds were empty"?) But second, and far more to the point is that, in fact, he is involved here and it's monumentally foolish for him not to grasp how. so Because even if we accept on face value what he says (something one should pretty much never do with Trump, but let's just play along...), the fact that Michael Cohen is being investigated for federal crimes which could get him up to 30 years in prison, it seems likely that he'll be given a plea bargain, but only on the condition that he flips and gives up evidence of his work with Trump that is criminal. So, although this may not be the kind of "involvement" Trump is thinking of, he has his head in the sand if he doesn't think he's "involved." He is involvement from the ground up to his comb-over. And that leads directly to the third point about that statement which tended to get overlooked. When Trump tried to distance himself from Michael Cohen by saying how Cohen took the Fifth because of his extensive outside business work, though he insisted he didn't even know what it was -- understand this: most of Michael Cohen's outside business work, separate from being a lawyer...was with the Trump Organization!!
There is also another major item during the Phone-a-thon from Hell that tended to get overlooked in most of coverage, although it did get noted in some. And that's how Trump seemed to be using the Felix Sater-George Papadopoulos Gambit. That's the ploy where he attempts to distance himself from people who could cause him trouble, saying that he doesn't really know the person, and they didn't do much work for him. He couldn't even identify if they stood next to him (which photos actually showed). That they just got the coffee. With Trump doing that here, talking about how utterly insignificant and "tiny" Cohen was. Well...if I was someone who knew Michael Cohen I would tell him not to expect a pardon.
Yet as bad as all that was, there was still yet another major story in Trump's meltdown, and it was that for the first time Trump (at least as president...) mentioned the name "Stormy Daniels" -- and not only mentioned her, but for the first time he actually acknowledged that Michael Cohen represented him in dealing with her! Those whoops you heard, which could be heard from outer space, were from her lawyer Michael Avanati. All of that contradicted everything he and Michael Cohen have said up to now, which had been that Cohen acted entirely on his own without any of Trump's knowledge. If Trump's current lawyers were lucky, when they heard this admission their heads were only spinning -- and not exploding.
And yet that that wasn't the only admission Trump made for the first time. Because there was another (!), but it it too didn't get much attention, especially compared to the other Major Headline rants. And it's that -- for the first time -- Trump admitted staying overnight in Moscow. That's something he's long-insisted Was Not True, which he would then explain proved that the "Golden Shower" part of the Steele Memo was not and could not possibly be true. Thereby (he hoped) undercutting all the veracity, despite most of it already being confirmed. But here he was yesterday, acknowledging that, yes, he was in fact there in Moscow over night.
It was all nuts. Absolutely "bat sh*t crazy." And not only loopy, but horrible to the extent that it caused him him actual, massive, real-world legal problems. Indeed, within only two hours of his meltdown phone call to Fox & Friends, the U.S. Attorneys sent a new filing to federal court to make their case that they should have access to the documents seized in the Cohen raid as not being lawyer-client work product, quoting Trump himself for saying that Michael Cohen only did a "tiny, little fraction" of legal work for him.
And the meltdown only grew from there. And the bizarre thing is that it all would have been even worse if the "Fox News" supplicants hadn't protected him and said the almost-unthinkable, actually cutting him off and saying, "We have to go, Mr. President."
A far-better phrase, and one we may be hearing, in part as a result of all this, would have been, "You have to go, Mr. President."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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