Does Anything Change After the Manafort and Cohen Convictions?

It's not obvious that two more felons in the Trump inner circle will have any immediate impact.


Mikhaila R. Fogel, Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes examine the Paul Manafort conviction and Michael Cohen guilty plea for Lawfare. They begin:

In the history of the American republic, there has never before been a single hour in which, in two separate courts, in cases prosecuted by two separate offices, a president’s former campaign manager and his former lawyer simultaneously joined his former national security adviser as felons—and one of them implicated the president in criminal activity.

Normally, the sort of felonies that Paul Manafort was convicted of Tuesday and to which Michael Cohen pleaded guilty are beyond the scope of what Lawfare covers. Bank fraud and tax evasion are not exactly national security legal issues, and certainly payments to adult film actresses and models in violation of campaign finance law are not the sort of “hard national security choices” that are our bread and butter.

Yet the convictions obtained Tuesday create a remarkable moment, one that interacts inevitably and deeply with major national security investigations—and that places stress on a presidency, and presidential personality, in a fashion that inevitably poses national security concerns.

They then ask and answer several questions. Among them:

Do these convictions have implications for L’Affaire Russe?

They may, and in both cases, there is reason to suspect they do, but we don’t know yet know for certain.

[…]

On MSNBC on Tuesday evening, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis made his client’s feelings plain: “Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.”

But keep in mind that there were high hopes that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos would be in a position to offer Mueller substantial cooperation after his plea agreement. That turned out not to be the case.

How big a deal is the Manafort verdict?

Pretty big.

[…]

Tuesday’s verdict is also not the end of the story for Manafort—not even close. He is scheduled to go on trial in Washington, D.C., in September for alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and other charges. While the charges in the Virginia trial were not central to the core questions of the Mueller probe—the foreign conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 election—this trial did demonstrate that Manafort was under overwhelming financial stress and deeply indebted to foreign interests at precisely the time he agreed to join the Trump presidential campaign without pay.

What’s more, it is clear that the special counsel’s office believes the Manafort case is important to its mission. The evidence of this is the simple fact that Mueller chose to keep the Manafort prosecution within the office, not to refer it elsewhere. For some reason, Mueller’s team views the tax- and bank-fraud charges against Manafort as connected to the central inquiry, in a way the Michael Cohen case—which it referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—is for some reason not. That may be because Mueller’s team wants information it believes Manafort has. And that, in turn, makes his conviction, and the pressure on him that it generates, a significant event.

How big a deal is the Cohen plea agreement?

Very big.

The president’s former lawyer has not only confessed to criminal campaign finance violations, but he has also said under oath that he was doing so at the direction of the president himself. It’s hard to say yet what precisely this means. But it is not a small thing. Setting aside the question of whether Cohen will cooperate with Mueller, it remains to be seen whether prosecutors will pursue additional criminal charges against individuals mentioned but not charged in the criminal information.

[…]

How close is this to the president?

“It doesn’t involve me,” the president said Tuesday afternoon when asked about the Manafort verdict. Setting aside the implications of the Manafort case for the Mueller investigation as a whole, Trump is certainly correct that the specific charges on which Manafort was convicted, and those on which the jury could not reach a verdict, do not involve the president’s conduct. The closest connection is that Manafort’s alleged bank-fraud scheme was ongoing during the time he managed Trump’s presidential campaign.

As we noted above, the story is quite different in the Cohen case. Among the counts to which the president’s former lawyer pleaded guilty are two violations of federal election law: “causing an unlawful corporate contribution,” regarding Cohen’s role in silencing Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump by persuading her to sell the rights to a tabloid that then quashed the story; and “excessive campaign contribution,” regarding Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels as part of a hush agreement, for which he was then reimbursed by the Trump Organization.

The criminal information made public Tuesday states that Cohen “caused and made the payments … in order to influence the 2016 presidential election”—that is, to prevent damaging information about the affairs from surfacing during the campaign. It is the political motive behind the payments that transforms the matter into a question of federal campaign finance law. As former White House counsel Bob Bauer wrote of the Cohen case Tuesday evening, legal constraints on such expenditures are implicated when “motivation[s] materially if not wholly shaped by political objectives” come into play.

There’s quite a bit more but those are the issues that most interest me.

The Trump campaign engaged in serial criminal activity and Trump himself not only knew about but directed some of it. It’s not obvious to me that it’ll matter in the short term, however. In the current environment, Trump supporters are unlikely to be phased by any of this. Hell, depending on how Fox News and Breitbart cover the story, they may not even know.

While it’s debatable whether paying off mistresses in violation of campaign finance laws is worse than committing perjury to conceal an affair with a White House intern, they’re certainly comparable. House Republicans considered the latter an impeachable offense when Bill Clinton did it. I vehemently agreed at the time and still do. Senate Democrats—and a majority of the American public—did not and Clinton survived the scandal.

I have no interest in re-litigating the Lewinski scandal two decades after the fact. My point in bringing it up is simply that, even in a more normal political environment, this particular set of revelations likely wouldn’t be enough to turn a President’s party against him.

While yesterday certainly provides more evidence that this administration has all manner of shady connections and is corrupt to its core, that seems to be baked into the public consciousness at this point. Hell, we casually note that Trump has a “fixer,” a job title I can’t recall previously being associated with a President of the United States.

Manafort and Cohen are likely to matter, then, only to the extent they lead to something bigger. I agree with the assessment of the Lawfare gang that Cohen may well help Mueller get there. But we’re not there yet.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Presidency, Russia Investigation, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    Looks to me like Mueller has now shown, as noted by Lawfare, that both Manafort and Gates were in financial straits and vulnerable. By having this trial first he has also locked in that testimony in case Trump pardons someone.

    Steve

    8
  2. Nothing is going to shake the support of the hardcore Branch Trumpidians. Heck, even with Nixon there was still a core group of the public that remained loyal to the end, and there are those who try to defend him to this day by coming up with bizarre conspiracy theories to claim that Nixon wasn’t guilty of anything.

    The question is what impact this will have on (1) Republicans in Congress and (2) people who may have supported the President in 2016 but who don’t fall within the definition of his hardcore base.

    In the short term I don’t think there will be much of an impact. Republicans in Congress will stay silent for fear of pissing off the Trumpidian base ahead of the election, and non-Trumpidian Republicans will stay silent out of “party loyalty.” If the GOP suffers at the polls in November, though, as I suspect they will, then all bets are off.

    I don’t know where this will end. I suspect that Impeachment and removal from office are unlikely, although impeachment seems likely if Democrats win control of the House, but getting to 2/3 to convict in the Senate would be difficult absent a lot more evidence. However, even if it doesn’t end in that manner, I do think that August 21, 2018 is going to be seen as a turning point in Trump’s Presidency, and not in a good way.

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  3. SKI says:

    Perhaps a leading indicator of whether it will directly impact the Trump Presidency is whether Trump gets formally labelled (or not formally but in common usage) as “an indicted co-conspirator” based on Cohen’s plea.

    If the GOP Congress-critters have to explicitly answer a question, on camera, if they support the un-indicted co-conspirator president remaining in office, it may have an effect on (a) their ability to hold both chambers and (b) their willingness to run interference if Dems, getting control of at least one of the chambers, launch investigations/provide actual oversight.

    3
  4. gVOR08 says:

    Don’t forget the biggie. Did Cohen go to Prague as alleged in the Steele dossier? If he did, our most paranoid speculation is confirmed and Trump is toast.

    8
  5. Scott F. says:

    While yesterday certainly provides more evidence that this administration has all manner of shady connections and is corrupt to its core, that seems to be baked into the public consciousness at this point. Hell, we casually note that Trump has a “fixer,” a job title I can’t recall previously being associated with a President of the United States.

    No doubt this is true, yet it is about the sadness possible account of where US politics stand today. An administration corrupt to its core and NO ONE with any power to do something about it gives a sh*t.

    11
  6. KM says:

    @Doug Mataconis :
    Trump’s counting on the fact that we don’t send former Presidents to jail no matter what they did. He’s holding onto the hope that no one wants to break the historical norm and thus set a precedent they’ll regret. He may not be leaving us much choice, though. Trump in his foolish arrogance has made this a scenario we actually can see come to pass.

    Where would you even incarcerate an former President? Can you imagine SS details roaming the halls of outside a cell, glaring at the regular guards and maintaining a perimeter? Would max or min security be a better choice considering the unique situation? Would he get solitary for his own protection and does it count if he has his own security detail at his beck and call?

    Impeachment and removal might very well be the better option for him. Cut him a deal when he stays out of Sing-Sing if he lets Congress impeach him with as little fuss as he’s capable of and GTFO out the public eye for at least one Presidential term. ….OK, they’d be lucky to just get him to accept a bipartisan CYA removal without a Tweetstorm from Hell but still. The longer he’s tries to brave this out, the greater the chances he ends up in stripes. If the Blue Wave happens, he’d be a fool to not take any deals on the table.

    9
  7. Kylopod says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Very good, succinct summary of the situation. It’s exactly what I was thinking.

    3
  8. MarkedMan says:

    The answer to James’ question is, unfortunately, easy. These events will not move the needle. To understand why it is crucial to look back at how Donald Trump became the leader of the Republican Party. And not just the leader, but the all-crushing dominator, one so powerful that any Republican who dares to speak against him must leave office or be tarred and feathered by the Republican base. Now, we’ve hashed it out in these columns before, but suffice it to say that over the past two generations the Republican Party has become the perfect vessel for Trumpism by driving out anyone who a) stands for decency, b) believes in the rule of law, c) wants to be for something rather than simply being against everything, d) wants to use the mechanisms of government to improve the lives of anyone other than the billionaire hobbyists who dominate what passes for their agenda creation, and finally e) views politics as anything other than a game where you support your “team” at all costs and any individual “victory” means crushing your opponent and never mind the damage left behind.

    And, because of the type of people that make up today’s American electorate, this party controls all three branches of government. And both the House and Senate have essentially said: “Oversight is not our job. Acting as a check or balance against the excesses of Trump is not what we are about.” So, no, these latest revelations will not move the needle. Mueller’s report, no matter how damning, will not move the needle. Republicans hold all the levers of power, and the Republican Party is 100% the Party of Trump.

    The only thing on the horizon that might move the needle is if the Dems take the house and gain subpoena power and start to exercise their role as a check and balance. The Republican Senate will immediately pivot from avoiding any discussion or actions related to Trump and pivot to attacking the Dems and blaming everything on them, but perhaps the House can unearth enough clear and present danger to motivate the decent people left in the US to crush the Republicans in 2020.

    10
  9. Kathy says:

    Pending more revelations, this is hugely damaging politically to the GOP. More revelations might make it catastrophic. For now, if the democrats don’t get complacent, they have a good shot at taking the House. 538 has them at 75% or so, I think the number will climb.

    The hardcore base won’t care about anything at any time. Forget them. But independents, never-trumpers, and plain mainstream Republicans will. I agree the Clinton-Lewinski matter is history, but it’s also part of the reason the 2000 election was so close (yes, I know Gore isn’t Clinton), that it was essentially a tie. So trump’s current fleet of scandals will have electoral consequences down the road.

    Finally, I had to check my calendar yesterday to make sure it wasn’t December 25th

    3
  10. MarkedMan says:

    @KM: Your scenario seems so bizarre as to be almost beyond imagining. But then I think back to how virtually every episode of Trump’s life has ended, with the coarsest, trashiest drama, the lawyers and the bloviating, the ridiculous declarations and finally utter failure with perhaps the merest whispers of a fig leaf, which he immediately declares the most beautiful set of clothes in the world and how that was what he really wanted all along and boy, did he sucker those bankruptcy/divorce/AG lawyers. I would be more than happy to watch him play out the same act from behind bars.

    3
  11. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    Where would you even incarcerate an former President? Can you imagine SS details roaming the halls of outside a cell, glaring at the regular guards and maintaining a perimeter?

    Oh, just pay Mexico to do it 🙂

    13
  12. CSK says:

    Trump just Tweeted:

    “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

    3
  13. CSK says:

    Trump has additionally extolled Manafort, a “brave” man who didn’t “break, unlike Michael Cohen,” because Manafort “didn’t make up stories to get a deal.”

    2
  14. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ll just reiterate this: my late great co-blogger Lee coined the term “Brownie Moment” during Bush’s presidency. It meant when a prior supporter of Bush suddenly realized that the President really was kind of clueless and incompetent (although not a patch on Trump). He called it that because his support for Bush evaporated when he saw Bush praising Michael Brown for his Katrina response and realized Bush really meant it.

    There were probably more than a few Brownie moments yesterday. There will always be a hardcore based. But at some point, a lot of people are just going to say, “OK, I give up.” The only thing propping up Trump right now is the economy (which would normally equal 60+% support). If that stumbles, his support will too.

    8
  15. lounsbury says:

    It is fascinating to see the blind pious prudery of the Puritan culture echo in your bizarre analysis here:

    While it’s debatable whether paying off mistresses in violation of campaign finance laws is worse than committing perjury to conceal an affair with a White House intern, they’re certainly comparable.

    One instance is essentially a private and operational matter of little direct interest to the matters of actual governance or political process (the second one, for your edificatoin as your pious prudery blinds).

    The other instance (the first one) is an action of active concealement of material information in the actual electoral process, at a moment (and this is indeed the crux of why there is a criminal charge) of public crisis for the campaign arising from video of direct relation to the mistress and an issue of abusive behaviour and attitudes towards women – an issue not merely one of puritan prudery, but actual impact on public decision taking.

    The idea these things are comparable in the sense you write is rather jaw dropping prudery distorting rational analysis.

    22
  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    Here’s what has been accomplished: Trumpism is dead. Not Trump, he’s still there. But the idea that Trump is the leading edge of a transformative ideological wave, that’s dead. After 18 months Trump has added zero followers, despite a strong economy. Whatever the Trumpidians thought hey were getting, what they actually have is an administration discredited by its own massive corruption.

    History will not debate whether Trump was some colossus, but whether he was worse than James Buchanan. He’s cooked in terms of history. His voters are cooked as well, because eventually this entire vile episode in our history will be seen as a catastrophic voter failure. Future generations will ask how Cult45 could have been so stupid, so reckless, so spiteful, misogynist and racist.

    I don’t know whether #TraitorTrump manages to stagger to the end of his term or not, but he’s got a nasty stomach wound, he’s bleeding badly, and more, much much more, is coming: more Manafort conviction, the indictment and eventual conviction of Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., possibly even his daughter-wife Ivanka. This doesn’t end for Trump or Cult45, the pain will drag on and on, and now, increasingly, they’ll begin to understand that there is no winning, just losing and losing and losing.

    So, from my point of view we’re at Stalingrad. It is now unmistakably clear that Trump’s crime family has no path to victory, just multiple paths to annihilation. But we’ll probably still have to go through two more years of this. It was obvious in the winter of 1943 that Hitler was going down, but it took two more years before he blew his brains out amidst the wreckage he had created.

    16
  17. Franklin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Branch Trumpidians

    I don’t if you came up with that yourself, but it’s perfect.

    6
  18. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It was obvious in the winter of 1943 that Hitler was going down, but it took two more years before he blew his brains out amidst the wreckage he had created.

    That isn’t exactly a comforting analogy. The Nazis escalated their mass killings from ’43 onward. A wounded dog can be one of the most dangerous creatures around.

    17
  19. al Ameda says:

    Not that it matters to the Trump base, but it sure appears that Trump directed Cohen to commit a crime, to engage in a criminal activity.

    It is especially schadenfreude-ish to see Republicans twisting themselves into agent orange pretzels with the rationale that this doesn’t matter because it is outside the scope of collusion, or happened before he was president. Of course, no such standard was applied to Bill Clinton with respect to the Whitewater land deal, White House Travel Office, Rose Law Office Billings, the allegations of Paula Jones or Gennifer Flowers, etc.

    10
  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    Oh, just pay Mexico to do it

    Are you kidding me? Putting Trump behind bars? Now that’s a wall the Mexicans would be glad to pay for!

    8
  21. Kathy says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The only thing propping up Trump right now is the economy (which would normally equal 60+% support). If that stumbles, his support will too.

    Want to hear my nightmare scenario?

    This year the Democrats take the House, maybe also the Senate (I wouldn’t have thought to contemplate that possibility until yesterday). They begin to place checks on Trump. Legislation slows down even further. The economy, which is overdue for a downturn, does turn down. Trump and the GOP blame the Democratic Congress, and El Cheeto coasts to reelection in 2020.

    It would behoove the Democrats, if they take the House and more so if they also take the Senate, to make a BIG show of being willing to cooperate with the Orange Crook, for the good of the country.

    6
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    Oh, I know. (I wrote a WW2 trilogy set almost entirely post-Stalingrad.) It’s not going to be pretty, but remember when we were all worried that a fascist wave might be advancing to darken the landscape? I think we’ve gone from, “Can they be stopped?” to, “Will it end with a bang or a whimper?”

    Corruption is the endemic disease of autocrats and dictators but usually they (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar, Papa Doc, Mubarak, Chavez, etc…) have enough of an ideological construct to protect them against the growing awareness of their corruption. The Nazi regime was fantastically corrupt and incompetent, but their ideology-driven horrors rather distracted from their bumbling criminality.

    Trump has the balance wrong. You’re supposed to front-load the ideology and only slowly reveal the corruption. Trump lacks the brain power for ideology, and simultaneously is too lousy a crook to hide his corruption. His ‘ideology’ has failed to crack 40% and now his corruption begins to come into full view.

    6
  23. James Joyner says:

    @lounsbury:

    The other instance (the first one) is an action of active concealement of material information in the actual electoral process, at a moment (and this is indeed the crux of why there is a criminal charge) of public crisis for the campaign arising from video of direct relation to the mistress and an issue of abusive behaviour and attitudes towards women – an issue not merely one of puritan prudery, but actual impact on public decision taking.

    This seems like a stretch. Clinton went through all manner of contortions to conceal his pattern of abusive behavior towards women from voters as well. And Clinton perjured himself in a civil suit about conduct while President; Trump tried to conceal embarrassing affairs as a private citizen.

    The difference to me is that Clinton’s sex scandals were pretty much the entirety of his malfeasance as a public official. They’re the least of Trump’s.

    12
  24. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    The economy, which is overdue for a downturn, does turn down. Trump and the GOP blame the Democratic Congress, and El Cheeto coasts to reelection in 2020.

    I don’t think there’s any historical precedent for such a scenario. Several past presidents–among them, Truman, Clinton, and Obama–suffered a bad first midterm in which their party lost Congress (at least the House), then they successfully campaigned against the opposition party in Congress to win reelection. But in all those cases their reelection coincided with an improving economy. In contrast, Herbert Hoover’s losing the House in 1930 didn’t do much to aid his reelection chances two years later. In point of fact, I don’t know of any example of a president who has been reelected amid an economic downturn. That’s just not how it works. For better or worse, voters hold the president responsible for economic problems that strike on the president’s watch. It’s about as close to an ironclad rule as you can get.

    6
  25. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kylopod: And the GOP is not going to release its chokehold on SC nominations/seats.

    1
  26. gVOR08 says:

    Republicans in Congress will stay silent for fear of pissing off the Trumpidian base ahead of the election, and non-Trumpidian Republicans will stay silent out of “party loyalty.”

    This is, I fear, the most likely case. My estimate is that resignation, albeit still unlikely, is less unlikely than an impeachment conviction. If the polls are going south for him I think he’ll resign rather than lose.

    On the other hand, Kevin Drum observed yesterday, “Jeez, I go out to lunch, and when I get back everyone in the Republican Party is going to jail.” These are Republicans. It’s entirely possible that we’ll get up some morning with the GOPs in congress solidly behind the President*, go out for lunch, and come back to find that none of them ever supported Trump and, like good Germans in 1939-1945, they’ve all been around the corner buying smokes for the last two years.

    6
  27. Franklin says:

    @CSK: That tweet actually *increased* my opinion of Trump. This is it due to my impression of it as dark humor, not to mention my opinion of Trump is so low that him simply forming a grammatical sentence is impressive.

    2
  28. dmichael says:

    @James Joyner: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts (in this case, their own version of history). Clinton committed perjury in a civil proceeding brought specifically to bring down his presidency. He suffered several negative consequences, including suspension of his Arkansas law license and impeachment. The House led by serial adulterer Newt Gingrich, and comprised of members of a lame duck session some of whom were on their way out from a public disgusted by their rank partisanship, voted to impeach. The Senate refused to convict after trial, including many Democrats who expressed severe criticism of Clinton’s behavior. So, a naked partisan effort to destroy Clinton after discovering his private sexual behavior is somehow comparable (in your mind) to a violation of federal criminal statutes perpetrated or supported by a candidate for President in order to interfere with our election and gain political office. I don’t think so. Take off your partisan glasses regarding concern about sexual behavior by public officials. If you really want to compare sexual behavior: What Clinton did was wrong, morally and was beneath the dignity (but not the history) of the White House while Trump’s behavior towards woman (including his current wife) is APPALLING.

    23
  29. george says:

    @KM:

    Trump’s counting on the fact that we don’t send former Presidents to jail no matter what they did.

    Probably because, as Chomsky has said, every American President since WW2 has been a war criminal. But you don’t have to send Presidents to jail to impeach them, so as has been said, the questions are what it’ll take to get Trump impeached (GOP deciding its in their best interest or big enough increase in congress and senate Democrats, though some on the left are suggesting it might be better to keep Trump in power til 2020 rather than letting the GOP run Pence as a clean slate).

    3
  30. Mister Bluster says:

    Hell, we casually note that Trump has a “fixer,” a job title I can’t recall previously being associated with a President of the United States.

    G. Gordon Liddy?

    It may sound crazy, but a president once plotted to kill a reporter
    Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy brainstormed. They could run Anderson’s car off the road into a strategically placed obstacle. They could break into his home and put a tab of poison in his medicine bottle, a method they called “Aspirin roulette”. They could smear LSD on his steering wheel, causing him to die in a hallucination-induced car wreck.

    7
  31. James Joyner says:

    @dmichael:

    So, a naked partisan effort to destroy Clinton after discovering his private sexual behavior is somehow comparable (in your mind) to a violation of federal criminal statutes perpetrated or supported by a candidate for President in order to interfere with our election and gain political office. I don’t think so.

    I’m arguing something much more narrow: that they both broke the law to conceal embarrassing affairs. The Lewinski scandal came to light during the Jones lawsuit but was separate conduct by Clinton. I’d argue that perjury in that case is at least as severe as campaign finance violations to pay off Trump’s accusers. I haven’t followed the ins and outs of the Cohen or Manafort stories enough to understand the degree to which Trump is legally culpable in their broader crimes.

    4
  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    Election Day, 2020 if Trump loses, he can be arrested as soon as his successor is inaugurated. Which means that Trump, being Trump, will make the election a referendum on whether or not he should be arrested. By then even some of the Cult will be sick of his bullshit.

    2
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Trumpism is dead.

    I’ll believe the GOP is dead when it’s lifeless corpse, with a stake through its heart, lies “a-moulderin’ in the grave.”

    ETA: but I can see you are great at image and storytelling

    5
  34. charon says:

    Nixon’s support held firm for a long time, until a tipping point was reached and it collapsed.

    Now, you all will point out that Trump’s support is much more firmly and steadfastly committed to Trump than Nixon’s supporters were – and this I agree is true. But, but,

    See what is actually in the Cohen guilty plea, you could read Jen Rubin in today’s WashPo. Or see what Lanny Davis revealed on Rachel Maddow last night. There is much, much worse to come out re Trump than was ever true of Nixon. There is a sh!t tsunami headed for the GOP, Trump et al, much worse than ever hit Nixon, and lots of folks will be going down

    3
  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @charon:
    That Lanny Davis appearance on Maddow was riveting. That was a straight-up threat against Donald J.Trump. A Clintonista now has as his client Trump’s lawyer, and both are apparently rarin’ to go.

    Sammy the Bull has a few things he’d like to tell the committee. . .

    5
  36. Kit says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    By then even some of the Cult will be sick of his bullshit.

    Perhaps, but even so they will still be waiting for The One. The excesses of the Republican party over the past twenty years have cost it a couple of dozen votes. There will be no changing the base. And the next wannabe demagogue has to be encouraged by what he’s seeing right now.

    As for Trump, I don’t see him going gently into the arms of the law after he leaves office. The Democrats cannot afford to squander the next two years…

    2
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kit:
    I think it’s about 50/50 on how the base reacts. First, Trump’s base is not his current 42% approval, it’s more like 30%, the rest being Trump-curious folks. Watch the crowds at Trump’s Nuremberg rallies and you see a quasi-religious ecstasy in the crowd. The base is white evangelical Christians, they get a sexual rush off this kind of submission to domineering white males with bad hair.

    But that relationship rests on Trump’s ability to continue to stroke their erogenous zones. That’ll get harder and harder to pull off. The Trump show isn’t delivering the rush his voters expected or want. Some, probably most, will revel in their bitterness and they may all go down with the Trumptanic. . . but they may also realize they turned the Trump show on looking for comedy, and they aren’t getting any laughs now. They may just switch the channel and get their jollies elsewhere.

    2
  38. george says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Election Day, 2020 if Trump loses, he can be arrested as soon as his successor is inaugurated.

    But he won’t be, because every President does a few illegal things (war crimes is the obvious one, but I doubt it stops there), and if Trump is arrested then his successor will be arrested as soon as the next party gets back into power, and so on.

    Its why Bush Jr wasn’t arrested for war crimes when Obama came into power, and why Obama wasn’t arrested for war crimes when Trump came into power; you don’t run world super powers without breaking some laws. People think Trump is a special case, but he’s not even the worst President we’ve had (besides the obvious choices like Andrew Jackson and his Trail of Tears, there are Presidents who’ve caused tens of thousands of deaths (ours – millions of foreign deaths) from unnecessary wars, which is far worse than Trump has managed yet (though I’d rather not give him time to do so).

    Even recently LBJ and Bush Jr lied to get us into wars (Gulf of tonkin, WMD’s), both causing far more death and damage than anything Trump has managed yet (though I don’t think he’d hesitate for a second to do the same if it was in his interest to do the same).

    As nice as it would be to see Trump arrested, its not worth the political instability it would cause. Not to mention making a martyr out of him. He should be exposed and disgraced (and sued), and then pardoned, because anything else will cause a cycle that will do far more damage than leaving him to live his few remaining years as a constant reminder of how mucked up politics can become.

    Trump isn’t a one-off, we’ve had worse Presidents before, and will have worse ones again. Nixon disgraced was far more effective than Nixon jailed. The same holds for Trump.

    6
  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Thank you. You should see what I can do with a 14 year-old psychopath who has a ten foot-long tentacle arm.

    3
  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    @george:
    Not 10% of the American people are prepared to charge a POTUS with war crimes. Not gonna happen. People do not equate policy – however dishonest – with actual crime. And none of those presidents had been named as an un-indicted co-conspirator. Nixon, er, Trump will be named as a co-conspirator in more crimes, and may well be named as a primary in a number of crimes. Trump is not LBJ or W, he’s John Gotti. He’s the head a criminal enterprise. That’s a difference of kind, not degree.

    5
  41. CSK says:

    @Franklin:

    I, too, wondered if Trump wrote that himself. The absence of any grammar, spelling, usage, or punctuation errors argues not.

  42. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That Lanny Davis appearance on Maddow was riveting.

    No spit. I was a little put off by his description of Cohen as a good man who wants to do the right thing, but I understand that he’s working Cohen when he says those things. I was really disappointed in Davis when I heard he’d taken on Cohen, but it looks like I was in error. This could all be a good thing.

    4
  43. Kari Q says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    whether he was worse than James Buchanan.

    At least Buchanan thought he was doing what was best for the country as a whole, hard though that is to believe. Trump couldn’t care less about the country as a whole. He doesn’t even care about his supporters.

    https://imgflip.com/i/2gd4ex

    3
  44. Yank says:

    Nixon’s support held firm for a long time, until a tipping point was reached and it collapsed.

    Exactly, the tapes was the turning point for Nixon.

    I do think people are underestimating the possibility of Republicans bailing on Trump. Politicians in general are about self preservation and even though Republicans came back, they did bail on Trump after the Access Hollywood tape. If Democrats take the house and start to run oversight on the administration, as well as Mueller doing his thing, things could get really ugly for Trump since their is just so much corruption. It might get to the point where Republicans just can’t deal with it anymore and bail, which is what happened to Nixon in 74.

    2
  45. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You should see what I can do with a 14 year-old psychopath who has a ten foot-long tentacle arm

    Yeah, I’m just assuming you are talking about one of your YA novels here, and not one of your children?

    4
  46. MarkedMan says:

    @Yank:

    I do think people are underestimating the possibility of Republicans bailing on Trump

    There are a lot of different types of Trump supporters. The evangelicals will probably never turn on him because their ultimate goal in any relationship is to demonstrate their supreme faith even when things look bleakest. But there is a not insignificant number of Trumpoids who love him because he is a cantankerous SOB who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. And they’ll probably never really get that it was all a big con, but they will gradually get more and more tired of his BS. To them, Trump is like that friend they made while watching their kids play soccer. The guy that filled up the area, funny as hell as much for being outrageous as for being, well, funny. Full of great stories and always talking about the really fun stuff they were going to do the next time he got a few friends together with a cooler full of beers and a fifth or two stashed in the trunk. But then they gradually noticed that those trips never came off, and they ended up in arguments with their families and friends over the obnoxious thing he said about their cousin Katey, and he never seemed to have his wallet with him when they happened to be out for a beer. By the time he was asking them to cosign a car loan because their was this really bullish*t ID scammer who messed up his credit rating, the novelty was really wearing off.

    For those people, it might take years, even decades for them to ever admit to anyone that they had been conned by the guy. But they won’t come out for him. And, with respect to Trump, I hope to god that’s where they are at mentally by 2020.

    6
  47. Gustopher says:

    @george: I don’t think that the arrest and prosecution of Trump, after he heaved office, would cause any more instability than we have now.

    We already have a Republican Party marching into crazy land, where compromise is thought of as a bad thing. Are they going to get worse?

    It might even be healing. It will give a lot of Republicans an opportunity to step off the crazy train, blame it all on Trump and move on. And if it creates a situation where every blatantly corrupt president is arrested and sent to jail… I would be ok with that.

    1
  48. george says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You may be right. You can hide thousands or even millions of deaths as policy and get away with it, but financial irregularities are sacrosanct. What a F-ed up world we’ve made.

    But I suspect that if Trump is jailed, then the next Democratic Party President will be too, they’ll just a different excuse for it. It’s like when Carter led the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics; everyone knew that the USSR and its allies would automatically boycott the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, even though people didn’t know which of the myriad possible reasons they’d give.

    Disgracing Trump would be much better; no martyr, no revenges (his GOP opponents would probably even help the process).

    1
  49. george says:

    @Gustopher:

    And if it creates a situation where every blatantly corrupt president is arrested and sent to jail… I would be ok with that.

    Except ‘blatant’ will automatically be translated into “something done by a President from the opposing party”. There’s always some underhanded stuff going on in politics; so far its been in both party’s interest not to bring it to light. But if you jail people from one party you’ve changed the game, and they’re going to suddenly find every small thing thing worthy of criminal charges, and the cycle continues. A quick look at world history shows how that works.

    1
  50. Steve V says:

    @Yank: If Rush, Hannity, Levin et al turn on Trump, then the base will too. But they won’t turn on him without someone to turn to. Maybe Ted Cruz.

    3
  51. Kit says:

    @george:

    if you jail people from one party you’ve changed the game

    The evergreen advice to democrats is not to rock the boat once in power. The game changed under Bush W., and Obama’s greatest mistake, in my opinion, was is not dealing with it immediately. The American Right is out to change the nature of the county, and the answer is not to sit back and try not to provoke them.

    8
  52. Kathy says:

    @george:

    But I suspect that if Trump is jailed, then the next Democratic Party President will be too, they’ll just a different excuse for it.

    You can count on it. And eventually a president will stage their own coup to prevent such an outcome. I think that’s why Ford committed political suicide by pardoning Nixon.

    In Trump’s case, though, we can ask: will a lifelong criminal stop committing crimes because he’s out of office? Very likely not.

    Then, too, should Trump do something especially heinous, like ordering the murder of a political opponent or critic, then there’d be a real, non-transferable reason for prosecuting him and putting him in prison for the rest of his life. But I honestly hope it won’t come to that.

    4
  53. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kit:..the answer is not to sit back and try not to provoke them.

    The answer is to vote the bastards out of office!

    3
  54. MarkedMan says:

    @Kit:

    The American Right is out to change the nature of the county, and the answer is not to sit back and try not to provoke them.

    A thousand times this. “If we don’t make them angry they won’t hit me” is not the way to deal with them.

    5
  55. MikeSJ says:

    I don’t see the dial moving very much for Trump as long as the scandals are about “the women”. Stormy and the Playboy Bunny are already baked into the cake for Trump supporters. If “grab them by the ….” didn’t bother the Trumpinistas at all (a furrowed brow doesn’t count) then payoffs to his affair partners (hey, it’s Trump, what did you expect?) won’t matter at all.

    The way I see it is the Trumptanic is scraping the iceberg and there’s more to come. The kicker is not going to be that Trump knew about the Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer (of course he knew) but what happened afterwards.

    If Mueller can show coordination with the Kremlin and Trumps campaign then that’s going to be a deal breaker. If they have the goods on Jared I have no doubt he’d roll over in a NY minute.

    We’ll see what happens next but it’s guaranteed with Trump there’s always more to come.

    1
  56. Kit says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    The answer is to vote the bastards out of office!

    I honestly think that more is needed, especially now that the playing field has been so far tilted in the opposition’s favor. Democrats need to steal a page from Republicans and force the next generation of politicians to truly drain the swamp. There’s no need for overreach — scratch the surface and corruption comes bubbling up to the surface.

  57. Jen says:

    The spin being put on the Cohen charges by Fox News (et al) is fascinating. It appears to boil down to “the campaign-related charges to which Cohen has pleaded guilty aren’t illegal.”

    The contortions necessary to make that mentally plausible in any logical fashion aren’t generally found outside of Cirque du Soleil.

    3
  58. wr says:

    @george: “A quick look at world history shows how that works.”

    And a quick look at American history shows that if you simply shrug and forgive the people who sell missiles to Iran to fund a terrorist movement or manufacture evidence to lie us into war or tank the entire economy because We Must All Forgive and Move On, the bastards just come right back at you, only harder and dirtier.

    It was a mistake for Ford to pardon Nixon, thus setting in stone the idea that if you are powerful or rich enough you will never be punished for anything you do. The next administration has to stop that. There have to be jail sentences for corruption.

    4
  59. Michael Reynolds says:

    ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Investigators in New York state have issued a subpoena to Michael Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation, an official with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration confirmed to The Associated Press Wednesday.

    Let’s see Trump pardon his way out of that.

    6
  60. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: similar efforts on state levels should start with Manafort.

    3
  61. george says:

    @wr:

    Same is true for Johnson lying about Tonkin Gulf, though he gets less criticism than Bush, presumably because it was longer ago.

    Suppose Johnson had been jailed for his lies (that cost 50,000 American and a few million Vietnamese lives). Nixon would then have automatically been jailed (probably a plus). Then Carter (for providing financial, military, diplomatic and ideological support for fascist dictatorships that tortured and killed millions of members of their domestic populations), Reagan (Iran-contra-gate), Clinton (lying under oath) ….

    I’m sure you can go back and find Presidents who haven’t committed crimes worth being jailed for, but I suspect they’re few and far between, and the bar would get lower in each cycle.

    1
  62. george says:

    @Kathy:

    Then, too, should Trump do something especially heinous, like ordering the murder of a political opponent or critic, then there’d be a real, non-transferable reason for prosecuting him and putting him in prison for the rest of his life. But I honestly hope it won’t come to that.

    I think that would unite every politician to throw him in jail, as ordering deaths of political opponents is something they’d all feel vulnerable to. There’s a quid-pro-quo aspect to politics that revolves around them all ultimately being part of the same extremely elite club. Start killing off club members and they’ll all get nervous.

    Kind of doubt he’d go that route though, he’s not much of an ideologue (except in the sense of thinking he is by far the most important thing in the world), and killing politicians isn’t going to give him either money or a lazy life.

    1
  63. george says:

    @Kit:

    If Obama had jailed Bush for war crimes, he’d himself be in jail right now for war crimes (drone bombings alone would do it). I’m sure that was pointed out to him as soon as he took office. You can’t be American President without committing them.

  64. Kathy says:

    @george:

    Kind of doubt he’d go that route though, he’s not much of an ideologue (except in the sense of thinking he is by far the most important thing in the world), and killing politicians isn’t going to give him either money or a lazy life.

    And it would be really hard, especially after someone tells him he can’t do that.

    But it was just by way of example of something really terrible that even the GOP couldn’t ignore.

    1
  65. An Interested Party says:

    Disgracing Trump would be much better; no martyr, no revenges (his GOP opponents would probably even help the process).

    As warped as it may seem, it is probably better for the country if Trump stays right where he is until he loses in 2020…disgracing him without martyring him does that…meanwhile, I disagree with the idea that he is just like so many of his predecessors…all of this seems different from the shenanigans of past presidents…

    2
  66. george says:

    @An Interested Party:

    I agree he’s different, but as I’ve said, though he’s awful, I don’t think he’s the worst – you have to kill people unnecessarily to fit in that category (Jackson is my personal choice for worst, though LBJ with Vietnam and Bush Jr with Iraq are pretty awful too). Sadly enough, you have to cause the deaths of innocents in the thousands range to stand out among American Presidents.

    Mind you, he might get to the point where he starts a distraction war killing tens of thousands, which will put him over the top (or under the bottom) as the worst President in history.

    Sometimes I think its all a distraction game – if we spend a lot of time talking about the mannerisms and statements of our Presidents we won’t notice they’re all war criminals.

  67. Mister Bluster says:

    @An Interested Party:..it is probably better for the country if Trump stays right where he is until he loses in 2020

    Maybe you can predict the future. Somehow I doubt it.
    I am certain I can not.
    Assuming that Pud will fail in his attempt at a second term can only weaken the effort to elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020.

  68. Sleeping Dog says:

    @george:
    It was long ago and many forget or weren’t born, the protests against Johnson and later Nixon for the conduct and lies regarding the Viet Nam war, far exceeded the protests and blame that GW Bush received for Iraq. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was horribly wrong, but it never came close to the errors committed by Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in becoming involved in Viet Nam.

    2
  69. Mister Bluster says:

    …the protests against Johnson…

    Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?

    2
  70. Zachriel says:

    James Joyner: While it’s debatable whether paying off mistresses in violation of campaign finance laws is worse than committing perjury to conceal an affair with a White House intern, they’re certainly comparable.

    Not perjury, but civil contempt for providing intentionally false testimony. Perjury requires materiality. All that brouhaha was over testimony lacking relevance, and a case that was tossed for lack of merit.

    3
  71. george says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Its interesting how many people forget that (or simply don’t know about it), or the protests against Bush Jr, when they say that Trump is the worst President ever. Again, he’s horrible, but the competition for worst is fierce, and he’s not there yet – and I strongly advise that we don’t give him a chance to up his game (a war in N.Korea for instance just as a diversion seems right down his alley).

    1
  72. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    It was long ago and many forget or weren’t born, the protests against Johnson and later Nixon for the conduct and lies regarding the Viet Nam war, far exceeded the protests and blame that GW Bush received for Iraq.

    The big difference, IMO, lay int he existence of the draft in the Vietnam era. Young men were liable to be forcibly sent into a war, where they stood a good chance of being killed or maimed.

    There were multiple other factors, of course. Like the lack of visible progress (common when fighting guerrillas), the experiences of those who came back from fighting who saw first hand the futility of the exercise, and more.

    For a good overview of the causes, reasons (such as they were), and parts of the conduct of the war, i recommend Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly.” The chapter on Vietnam is titled “America Betrays Herself in Vietnam.”

  73. Kathy says:

    @george:

    Its interesting how many people forget that (or simply don’t know about it), or the protests against Bush Jr, when they say that Trump is the worst President ever.

    The one good thing to be said about the Cheeto administration, is he hasn’t started any new wars. Agreed.

    But he’s alienating allies, destroying the rule of law, setting up a kleptocracy, further dividing the country, weakening the country’s institutions, propping up dictators, and don’t forget his trade war against the whole world.

    Maybe that’s not worst than Bush the younger, but the extent of the damage will be far greater if he’s not checked soon.

    1
  74. SKI says:

    @george: He *is* the worst.

    He is *not* the most destructive.

  75. george says:

    @Kathy:

    Maybe that’s not worst than Bush the younger, but the extent of the damage will be far greater if he’s not checked soon.

    Right now I have both LBJ and Bush Jr as worse than him (unnecessary wars causing thousands of deaths), but I completely agree Trump has the potential to do worse, and should be checked soon (ideally the 2018 elections will take care of that, but sadly I doubt they will).

    1
  76. george says:

    @SKI:

    Most destructive (as in causing thousands of unnecessary deaths) is, in my books, the worst. People recover from other things. No one recovers from death.

    Some wars are justifiable, or at least understandable. Vietnam and Iraq 2 are not. Their deaths were completely unnecessary.

  77. SKI says:

    @george:

    Most destructive (as in causing thousands of unnecessary deaths) is, in my books, the worst. People recover from other things. No one recovers from death.

    Loss of a country’s institutions and trust in the same will ultimately cause far more death and damage than either of the Vietnam or Iraq wars.

    Your view on what is “destructive” is, IMO, overly narrow and lacking historical perspective and imagination.

    1
  78. george says:

    @SKI:

    Loss of faith in institutions and government in most cases does not lead to massive destruction – read up on the last couple thousand years of world history, you’ll find far more examples of peaceful transformations than violent ones. I would argue that it is in fact your view that is narrow and lacking historical perspective.

  79. wr says:

    @george: “Right now I have both LBJ and Bush Jr as worse than him”

    I realize you have your own metric — one I can admire for its purity even as I dismiss it for its lack of comprehension of how the world works — but at least LBJ did some very great things for this country, not least pushing through the Civil Rights Act. The closest Trump has come to that is eliminating the inheritance tax for his idiot children.

    3
  80. wr says:

    @george: “Loss of faith in institutions and government in most cases does not lead to massive destruction ”

    Seems to me the loss of faith in the institutions and government led to some pretty massive destruction when we’re talking about the French monarchy, the Tsars, the Weimar Republic, the Qing dynasty…

    3
  81. george says:

    @wr:

    Sure LBJ did some good things. So did Andrew Jackson. Trump’s done nothing good. On the other hand, they also did things orders of magnitude worse than anything Trump’s done so far (the so far is key, best to stop him before he matches them).

    1
  82. george says:

    @wr:

    Wikipedia (for example) has a list of former countries through-out history; there are hundreds of them. Care to guess how many of them ended with violent collapses like the ones you listed? I’m not arguing that lack of faith in government and institutions can’t cause massive destruction, I’m pointing out that it usually doesn’t.

    BTW, one of the big arguments against the anti-war movement (and to a lesser extent the civil rights movement) in the ’60’s was that they weakened the faith in gov’t and institutions. They did cause some disruption and destruction, but far less than the good they caused.

    Me, I’m first nations (American Indian if that means more to you). I have very little faith in the gov’t or its institutions, nor do most of my people. And yet very few of us go around destroying things because of it; if anything, I wish Americans had less faith in the gov’t and institutions as they are, because it might get them to take an honest look at things. Canada introduced public health care (an extremely good thing) when people lost faith in the gov’t and institutions as they were, and banded together to change things. BLM is trying to get people to take an honest look at policing (a gov’t institution), because what we have now simply isn’t working.

    3
  83. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @george: I have a question. My previous experience–limited as it is–is “first nations” as a term used in Canada. Has it become common in the US also? Back when I was paying any attention at all–didn’t need to keep up while I was living in Korea for 8 years–the term that was most common was “native American” or “indigenous.”

  84. george says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Its mainly a Canadian term – to my knowledge the idea of indigenous peoples as nations doesn’t play much of a role in America. I’m living in Canada now, so I tend to use it in political discussions.