Sunday, December 16, 2018

What Trump got, and gets, wrong heralds the beginning of the end ...

… the end, that is, of the Trump presidency,

Jennifer Rubin listed All the things Trump didn’t count on in her report in the Washington Post.

President Trump’s inability to respond to one charge emanating from one witness, a charge not even within the purview of the special counsel, suggests he will be entirely overwhelmed when the closet full of shoes starts dropping. He never knew about the payments, or he did, or it was Michael Cohen’s fault, or it wasn’t a crime, or if it was a crime it was no big deal. This might be the most inept response to allegations of presidential wrongdoing ever.

… consider all the other investigations out there — on collusion, the Trump Foundation and obstruction of justice. Each of those investigations represents a bevy of possible criminal charges. …

Remember that Trump never thought he’d really get elected — and then all this would come out. And once he got elected, he failed entirely to appreciate that he could not control investigators, witnesses, the press and even former associates. Cohen is right when he says that “the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It’s not like the Trump Organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done.”

Trump seems to have gotten a bunch of things wrong:

  • He thought former attorney general Jeff Sessions would shut down the Russia probe;
  • He thought the bullying and lies and congressional allies would impede investigators;
  • He thought Cohen would never flip and would never have tapes and other evidence;
  • He never thought Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg or American Media executives or David Pecker would cooperate with authorities;
  • He never thought his tweets and public outbursts were helping to incriminate him;
  • He never thought the shady operation of his foundation would draw the attention of the press, and in turn of New York state authorities;
  • He never thought his pardon power would be so useless (If he pardons associates, the dam may break in Congress; if he tries to pardon himself it likely would be ineffective);
  • He never thought he’d have to answer prosecutors’ questions, or that his written answers may have locked him into answers that could be disputed by multiple witnesses;
  • He never thought he’d face Democrats in Congress with subpoena power; and
  • He never thought his media circus would be entirely ineffective in stopping skilled prosecutors.

I’m going to probe three of the things Trump got wrong. He underestimated the man who is likely to emerge as the most influential investigator of all - Congressman Adam Schiff; Dems now control the House and its investigatory committees. Second, Trump thought that he could bully and threaten his way to keeping his finances secret; investigators are now following the money. Third, he counted on the loyalty of his buddies to protect him; now they are flipping like cards in a game of Texas hold ’em.

The power of congressional oversight

Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker reports on Adam Schiff’s Plans to Obliterate Trump’s Red Line. With the Democrats controlling the House, Schiff’s congressional investigation will follow the money.

I’ll have more on following the money below. My interest here is to expose how Trump and his supporters have underestimated the power of congressional oversight as manifested by Adam Schiff.

… recalling third grade, Schiff told me, “That was the last time that someone called me Adam Shit. I think the kid’s mother actually washed his mouth out with soap.”

He was referring to an incident last month, when the President tweeted, “So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” (In fact, there is no requirement for Mueller, who was named to his post by Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, to be confirmed by the Senate.) Schiff has been a frequent target of Trump, who has called him “sleazy,” a “leaker,” and “little.” …

The thing is, with Congressional Dems ascending, Trump is about to find out how big “little” Adam Schiff really is.

President Trump said some time ago that he believes his personal finances should be off limits to investigators. In an interview with the Times in July, 2017, he asserted that if Robert Mueller, the special counsel, sought to investigate the Trump family’s business dealings he would be crossing a “red line.” When, later that year, several news reports suggested that Mueller had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for records relating to Trump’s businesses, the President reportedly told members of his staff that he wanted to fire Mueller in response. It was never confirmed whether Mueller had actually subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, but the President’s aversion to the scrutiny of his business interests caught the attention of Representative Adam Schiff, who will become the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence next year. On a recent weekend, at a busy restaurant in downtown Burbank, in the heart of his congressional district, Schiff talked about his plans for conducting an investigation that will be parallel to Mueller’s, probing Trump’s connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other places around the world. As Schiff described his approach, it became clear that he wasn’t just planning to cross Trump’s red line—he intended to obliterate it.

"Our role is not the same as Bob Mueller’s,” Schiff told me … The job of prosecutors like Mueller is to identify and prosecute crimes, not necessarily to inform and educate the public. Congressional committees, like the one Schiff will soon lead, are supposed to monitor the executive branch and expose wrongdoing. Mueller is supposed to file a report on his findings, but, in keeping with the regulations for the office of the special counsel, it will be up to his supervisor in the Justice Department, who is now Matthew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, to determine whether Mueller’s report is made public. Schiff has his own agenda for areas to investigate. “The one that has always concerned me is the financial issues, which obviously have come much to the fore this week,” he said. …

Following the money

And that brings us to the probes into Trump’s finances. Toobin continues.

Schiff went on, “At the end of the day, what should concern us most is anything that can have a continuing impact on the foreign policy and national-security policy of the United States, and, if the Russians were laundering money for the Trump Organization, that would be totally compromising.” Schiff hypothesizes that Trump went beyond using his campaign and the Presidency as a vehicle for advancing his business interests, speculating that he may have shaped policy with an eye to expanding his fortune. “There’s a whole constellation of issues where that is essentially the center of gravity,” Schiff said. “Obviously, that issue is implicated in efforts to build Trump Tower in Moscow. It’s implicated in the money that Trump is bragging he was getting from the Saudis. And why shouldn’t he love the Saudis? He said he was making so much money from them.” As the Washington Post has reported, Trump has sold a superyacht and a hotel to a Saudi prince, a $4.5-million apartment near the United Nations to the Saudi government, and many other apartments to Saudi nationals, and, since Trump became President, his hotels in New York and Chicago have seen significant increases in bookings from Saudi visitors. …

… The American people have a right to know that their President is working on their behalf, not his family’s financial interests,” Schiff said. “Right now, I don’t think any of us can have the confidence that that’s the case.” All of these subjects, Schiff averred, were fair game for investigation by the committee that he will soon chair.

CNN, among others, reports that Trump inaugural committee under criminal investigation, sources say.

President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York for possible financial abuses related to the more than $100 million in donations raised for his inauguration, according to sources familiar with the matter.

One source familiar with the matter says the investigation is in the early stages and investigators are generally focused on whether any inauguration money was misspent.

The investigation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal Thursday afternoon.

Citing conversations with people familiar with the investigation, which is being handled by the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan, the Journal reported that prosecutors are also looking into whether the committee accepted donations from individuals looking to gain influence in or access to the new administration.

Reporters are even tracing the Trump family’s rental business that is claimed to have inflated rents and to have passed along such revenue from Trump Sr. to his children. The NY Times reports As the Trumps Dodged Taxes, Their Tenants Paid a Price.

Betrayal by buddies

Trump’s ex-attorney Michael Cohen is a prime example. Jennifer Rubin observes:

Michael Cohen’s interview with ABC News underscores a critical point: His own credibility has been enhanced because prosecutors have so much information tying Trump to illegal payments and suggesting he knowingly made the payments in a way to avoid detection or harm to his campaign. (“There’s a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth,” he said.)

David Packer, head of AMI, flipped and is cooperating with the Southern District of New York. John Cassidy writes about this one in the New Yorker, Donald Trump’s Tabloid Reckoning.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York published details of a coöperation agreement it reached in September with American Media, Inc., the parent company of numerous supermarket tabloids, including the National Enquirer, Globe, and Star magazine. In a “Statement of Admitted Facts” appended to the agreement, the following paragraph appears:

In or about August 2015, David Pecker, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AMI, met with Michael Cohen, an attorney for a presidential candidate, and at least one other member of the campaign. At the meeting, Pecker helped offer to deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationship with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Pecker agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories.

The document goes on to detail the story of how, in the summer of 2016, Pecker and A.M.I., at Cohen’s request, paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to “a model and actress attempting to sell her story of her alleged extra-marital affair with the aforementioned presidential candidate.” (The woman was Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year.) The statement went on, “At no time during the negotiation for or acquisition of model’s story did AMI intend to publish the story or disseminate information about it publicly.”

Consider, for a moment, what these passages mean. For the past nineteen months, investigators working for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, have been delving into the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in a criminal conspiracy with Russians to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Mueller has already released some damning information, but we are still waiting for the full findings of his investigation. Meanwhile, however, the prosecutors at the Southern District have already confirmed the existence of a conspiracy that had nothing to do with Russia, but which was explicitly designed to influence the outcome of the election.

Trump denies this, of course. The other day, he said in a tweet that the payments made to McDougal and Stormy Daniels were “a simple private transaction.” But that appears to be contradicted by the revelation that “at least one other member of the campaign” attended the August, 2015, meeting with Packer and Cohen. Who was this person (or persons)? Was it Trump himself, perhaps? The New York prosecutors haven’t let the answer slip yet, but on Thursday NBC News reported that it had confirmed through “a person familiar with the matter” that Trump was indeed the other person present. If that is true, he has a lot of explaining to do, and that’s putting it lightly.

It is likely, Jennifer Rubin reports, somewhere, sometime soon, that we will see an avalanche of betrayals by his other supporters. Senators are starting to cave.

For Trump, it is becoming hard to imagine how he survives politically or legally. Even if he avoids impeachment or avoids removal, only about a third of the country (with a smidgen of the total universe of evidence available to them) thinks he’s innocent. When charge after charge piles up, each backed up by multiple pieces of evidence, it’s not impossible to imagine that elected Republicans will turn on him — or that Republican voters, who see his presidency at a standstill, will begin to look for alternatives for 2020.

John Cassidy reports on the “elected Republicans”.

… With talk of impeachment spreading like a virus, his survival, more than ever, depends on the support of Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly G.O.P. senators. And although in recent days the majority of these senators have kept silent or expressed support for the President, one or two have expressed dissident thoughts. “If someone has violated the law, the application of the law should be applied to them like it would to any other citizen in this country, and obviously if you’re in a position of great authority like the Presidency that would be the case,” Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, said on Sunday. Then, on Tuesday, Senator Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, said, “Am I concerned that the President might be involved in a crime? Of course. The only question is, then, whether or not this so-called hush money is a crime.”

Jennifer Rubin gets the conclusion:

Trump’s presidency, his financial empire and even his freedom are at risk. (Presidents can be indicted after leaving office and cannot pass out pardons for state offenses.) He can be angry at Sessions or Cohen, but he is solely responsible for his own fate, which right now looks awfully bleak.

No comments:

Post a Comment