Man, was yesterday not a good day for Trump. You know it's a bad Trump Day when a sitting Congressman, up for re-election in just two months -- and even more, when it's Duncan Hunter, the second Congressman to endorse Trump -- is indicted and it's pretty much ignored. (In fact, that makes it a Daily Double, since the first Congressman to endorse Trump, Chris Collins, was also indicted about a week ago. It must be something in the water...)
Not only that, but also lost in all the FAR bigger news yesterday is that a New York judge rejected efforts by Trump lawyers to dismiss a lawsuit against Trump private security guards that they had roughed up five activists who were protesting at Trump Tower after he had announced his candidacy in 2015. (Boy, were those five demonstrators prescient...) Worse, in rejecting the claims, the judge specifically said that Trump himself had "authorized and condoned" his security guards' actions and quoted Trump's statement that “maybe they deserved to be roughed up.”
But in the end, with Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort convicted on eight felonies yesterday, and Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to multiple felonies in the very same afternoon, it was pretty hard for any other news stories to edge its way in.
And none of this even takes into consideration the other five guilty pleas already. And something like 30 other indictments. And all this without the Special Counsel's report yet. Just related spill-off. The wheels appear to be starting to come off.
The Failing New York Crimes, indeed.
Of course, beyond just being a Really Bad Day for Trump, it was a pretty poor day for those two felons, as well, but particularly Paul Manafort since he not only has another trial about to start -- and this one more tied to the Trump campaign -- but also the government still can re-try him on the remaining 10 counts that haven't yet been decided due to the hung jury.
The most adorable thing to hear all day was Trump saying what a nice guy Manafort was, and how it was all such a shame while relentlessly repeating that the guilty verdicts had nothing to do with him, not related to him, he wasn't involved. Yes, it's true, Trump can even make an eight-count felony conviction of someone else be all about him -- by saying it's not about him. By the way, in specific legal detail, no, the jury findings on Paul Manafort were not about Trump. So...aces, that's all very true. But the man convicted had been hired by him to run his campaign -- and the convicted felon testifying against that man had been hired by Trump to be deputy chairman of his campaign -- which also shows truly terrible judgement by him. And raises questions about whatever other illegal activity was going on when you have two convicted felons at the top. And besides, you'd sort of like the president of the United States to make clear that, rather than just offering praise, being convicted of income tax evasion and bank fraud is actually not a good thing. And his cries of "not about me" misses the fact that he intentionally ignored the Michael Cohen plea which included his personal lawyer acknowledging in open court under oath that one of his felonies was committed specifically because he was directed to do so by Trump himself. Which most objective observers would consider really directly "about him." And would consider, as well, that to be part of an illegal conspiracy.
(Also lost in the news yesterday was a court filing with Cohen's plea deal noting that, after making his illegal payment at the direction of Trump, he was paid back for his illegal activities by...the Trump Organization! So, keep in mind that even if a sitting president can't be indicted -- not settled law, to be clear -- there is nothing that says a company and its officers can't be brought up on charges of making illegal payments. And worse still for Trump -- yes, things can be even worse -- Michael Cohen's admission of making illegal payoffs exposes him to New York state prosecution on numerous banking and tax crimes, which aren't affected by a presidential pardon. And exposes Trump to New York state crimes, as well. But it gets even worse. Yes, really. Because this morning, Cohen's attorney said that not only is his client not expecting a pardon from Trump...he wouldn't accept one from somebody so corrupt! That seems to open the cooperating witness spigot wide open. From a man who once said he's "take a bullet from Trump" -- now refusing to even consider a pardon from him.)
The biggest question about Michael Cohen's plea is that it appears not to include him being a cooperating witness. However, from almost every former prosecutor I heard analyzing the plea, the reaction was near unanimous that Cohen is indeed cooperating. The only uncertainty is the form that is taking.
It could be that the cooperating witness plea will be added later by the Special Counsel. Or it's part of a sealed agreement already in court. Or there's a verbal agreement between the lawyers on both sides -- who know and trust one another. But the overwhelming sense is that there is no way that Robert Mueller would have accepted a straight plea from Michael Cohen without cooperation in there somewhere.
In fact, later in the day, Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis was a guest on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC and, though he noted that he couldn't be specific about many things, made clear that his client very much wanted to talk to Mueller about everything, about what he knew about the Trump Tower meeting, about what he knew about Trump's knowledge of the Russian hacking. Mr. Davis wouldn't acknowledge that Cohen actually knew anything specific about these matters, just that he wanted to talk to Mueller about them -- but the inference was blatant. After all, it's hard to imagine Cohen saying, "Mr. Mueller, I really very badly want to talk with you to tell you that I don't know anything."
There's also the question of "Why now?" Why a plea now without cooperation. One explanation I heard was that it may have been related to two issues: first, that there's an unwritten rule for the FBI not to make any indictments in an election year after Sept. 1, and second, that the "Special Master" only days ago just completed going through all the Cohen documents, and Mueller's team hasn't had a chance yet to check them all out yet. And so, they wanted to get this first part, the basic plea, out of the way, and not go down to the wire to September 1.
The better answer is -- who knows? And at the moment it doesn't matter. What matters is that there was a guilty plea and there is a near-certainty that Michael Cohen will be cooperating, if he isn't already.
And the only other remaining question is: what time in the wee dark hours of the morning would Trump's meltdown tweetfest begin?
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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