Wednesday, May 09, 2018

How Trump Exits Matters

By William Hausdorff

As articles accumulate that the end may finally be nigh for the Trump administration (see here, here, or here, I find myself thinking about Al Capone.

After a couple of short-term contempt of court convictions, the gangster was finally convicted not of racketeering and murders, but of failing to pay income taxes on his illegal income. For the prosecutors, this was a more expedient approach than amassing the evidence (and keeping the witnesses alive) necessary for the more serious crimes. Is this going to be the Trump story, for “the most corrupt administration ever” (in Senator Elizabeth Warrren’s terms) to be brought down by undeclared campaign contributions to porn stars?

Why it matters how he goes

If this is the way he goes, it’s a serious problem for the Republic. As I and others have repeatedly pointed out, there was no reckoning, even under the previous Democratic President and Congress, for the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell fraudulent invasion of Iraq, and now we have some of the same people (see John Bolton, National Security Advisor) back in power. There was no reckoning for those responsible for the US-endorsed torture policy, and so it is likely that one of the head torturers, Gina Haspel, will shortly be confirmed as CIA director.  And there was no reckoning for bankers behind the housing crisis leading to the “worst depression since 1929,” making one wonder what would be the incentive for banks not to try to repeat the same destructive financial games.

What will be the lasting value to the Republic if Trump is chased out for lies about Stormy Daniels, not because of enriching himself as President, not because of undermining and encouraging contempt and disobedience of Federal judges and the Justice Department, not because of Russian collusion, not because of dubious dealings with money launderers and corrupt rings, not because of overtly encouraging racist divisions and attacks on the freedom of the press in the country, and not because of the swamp of corruption and incompetence that is his cabinet?

If there are no consequences here, then the next heir to the Palin-Trump lineage, as malevolent but presumably much more competent (Pence?), will certainly have a much freer rein to continue to erode the rule of law.

How might Trump go? Not by impeachment….

Let’s first consider how Trump WON’T go. It is increasingly recognized that while Trump (and sidekick Rudy Giuliani) may be playing an inept legal game, his political game is making headway. Its goal is to tarnish Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Justice Department so that any recommendations regarding “obstruction of justice” or other charges are viewed as “purely political” in nature. In the process, it’s also designed to intimidate both concerned Republicans (if there are any) and Democrats from even thinking about impeachment.

Each would face the prospect of being rapidly engulfed in charges of “purely political maneuvering” designed to “overturn the results of the election.” Any Republican support for impeachment proceedings, even after a hypothetical Democratic landslide in November, remains difficult to imagine. And it seems a non-starter for the Democrats to even consider going it alone.

While Trump’s primary motivation is protecting Trump, the Republican Party is also quite happy with Trump’s political song and dance attack on Mueller and the rest of the Justice Department. Their happiness is evidenced by the lack of any criticism, much less restraint, by senior Republicans or their leadership on the aggressive efforts of the “Freedom Caucus” House Republicans to interfere with and shut down the Justice Department probes.

Why are they happy? Because headlines obsessed with Trump’s tweet-farts and Giuliani’s burbles on cable news shows deflect what might be prolonged critical press and political attention on more substantive, scandalous statements by other Republicans.

For example Mike Pence, whose term in office has thus far has consisted largely of setting records for sycophancy and brown nosing in the historically highly competitive Vice Presidential division, (see for example, this) has suddenly taken big boy steps into full-fledged Trump demagoguery by praising Arizona ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a tireless champion of … the rule of law 

This is the same Joe Arpaio with a long history of abusive and borderline illegal behavior, who last year was convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants. Pence was not only blasted by never-Trumper conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin but also, as noted in the article in the Washington Post, by other right wing press sites (National Review and Red State) for this. Yet mainstream media attention lasted a grand total of 2 days on what can only be taken as an endorsement of overtly criminal behavior by the Vice President.

Meanwhile, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, currently preoccupied with the de facto dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (he’s also Acting Director), proudly admits that as a Congressman he only spoke to lobbyists who gave him money.

If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.

While there were initially predictable hoots of protest by a few Democrats (and actually a few Republicans), these too have been drowned out in the cacophony of the Russia-porn show. In any case, is this something that the Democrats plan to run on in the mid-term elections—seriously trying to get money out of politics, to show that they are somehow different? Or would it be difficult for Democrats to use this, because…isn’t Mulvaney’s behavior--substituting, perhaps, "big campaign contributors" for "lobbyists"--also true for most of them? So much for cleaning up the swamp.

Trump’s political strategy of dribbling out tantalizing tidbits about his intimate interactions with Stormy Daniels and his “fixer” Michael Cohen —things everyone already guessed--also far overshadowed the particularly disturbing characterization, by the President’s chief legal adviser Rudy Giuliani, in the same Fox interview, of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation as [Nazi] “stormtroopers.”

The real threat to Trump is the threat of legal actions

Realistically, Trump won’t move unless he perceives that his “brand” and/or his “business” is seriously jeopardized by legal attacks. But this kind of challenge to Trump can only happen if someone actually files charges against the President and/or his family.

On the federal level, it’s not clear if any indictments will be forthcoming from the Justice Department via Special Counsel Mueller. First, the Department of Justice, we read time and time again, doesn’t believe a sitting president can be indicted (though others may disagree). Secondly, and I hate to mention it, because it honestly appears that they are very serious about their work, but Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are, after all, life-long Republicans. Even if they were convinced that it’s only a matter of time before they themselves are fired, leading to the burial of Mueller’s report and recommendations (since there is no obligation for it to become public), one wonders about their willingness to break precedent by indicting a Republican president.

Legal charges can also come from elsewhere. The investigation of lawyer-fixer Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels is not in Mueller’s hands, but rather in the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, meaning that firing Mueller in theory would not affect that case. And while there recently have been suggestions that presidential pardoning power might indirectly preclude any state charges due to loopholes in (NY) state law, there are legislative remedies around that.

The package Trump will get

So let’s assume that despite his best efforts, Trump truly can’t wiggle out of the Stormy Daniels/Michael Cohen fraud and lies. It seems to me the most likely scenario then is that Trump resigns, declaring that he’s MADE AMERICA GREAT but that the Deep State and Hillary and Mexicans finally took him down. The key to the deal, of course, is that good old President Mike Pence will pardon “ex-President Trump and his blood relatives for all crimes they have and will commit ever.”

It’s time to think about what happens after Pence pardons him. Do any investigations continue, or does Mueller go quietly in the night? “Thanks for coming, Bob!” Will there be any congressional hearings to review the vast range of damage he’s inflicted on the Republic?

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine that the inclinations of Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would be to quickly announce Democrats’ “100% support of the pardon to help heal the Nation.” No need for “divisive hearings” of any sort.

While the State lawsuits might proceed, it is unfortunately also easy to imagine establishment Democrats urging the State Attorneys General and others to consider withdrawing State charges to “put it all behind us and start a new chapter”—with President Pence.

I hope this is not the case this time. There does seem to be sufficient dissent within the Democratic party and its electorate on this issue, and there conceivably could be a huge political price for the “opposition” party to pay if they simply roll over and continue business as usual.

Al Capone did end up going to federal prison. It seems highly unlikely Trump or his family will ever face jail terms, or any serious financial penalty. Something’s wrong here. At the very least, I hope the opposition party will rise to the occasion with serious hearings as to what went wrong and hope to fix it, either before or after the mid-terms.

>By the time Capone emerged from prison 8 years later, he had already been rapidly overtaken by syphilitic dementia and was—to put it mildly--a spent force. Maybe there are more similarities with Trump than I thought.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I read the reference to "torture" in the New York Times analysis of the hearing today and wondered when that was a deemed an appropriate term to use. A Washington Post piece, e.g., against Sen. Tom Cotton still used the term "enhanced interrogation." A b.s. term. but perhaps (to be optimistic) it was using the language of the hearing.

As to Al Capone, one somewhat fictionalized account was the "Untouchables" movie with Kevin Costner playing the Elliot Ness role. How will future movies portray these events?