After being released from prison to serve the balance of his sentence in home confinement, Bill Barr got word that Cohen was finishing up a book about Donald Trump. Barr’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) gave Cohen an ultimatum: stop writing/talking/posting about the president or go back to prison. Upon seeking clarification of the conditions being proposed by the BOP, Cohen was returned to prison. Cohen filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, contending his imprisonment by Barr was illegal. Today, a federal court judge agreed, ruling that Barr/BOP retaliated against Cohen for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.
According to “Kushner, Inc.,” Gary Cohn, former director of the National Economic Council, has told people that Ivanka Trump thinks she could someday be president. “Her father’s reign in Washington, D.C., is, she believes, the beginning of a great American dynasty,”
.. Kushner, whose pre-White House experience included owning a boutique newspaper and helming a catastrophically ill-timed real estate deal, has arrogated to himself substantial parts of American foreign policy. According to Ward, shortly after Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state, Kushner told him “to leave Mexico to him because he’d have Nafta wrapped up by October.”
.. As political actors, the couple are living exemplars of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon which leads incompetent people to overestimate their ability because they can’t grasp how much they don’t know.
Partly, the Jared and Ivanka story is about the “reality distortion field” — a term one of Ward’s sources uses about Kushner — created by great family wealth. She quotes a member of Trump’s legal team saying that the two “have no idea how normal people perceive, understand, intuit.” Privilege, in them, has been raised to the level of near sociopathy.
.. Ward, the author of two previous books about the worlds of high finance and real estate, has known Kushner slightly for a long time; she told me that when he bought The New York Observer newspaper in 2006, he tried to hire her. She knocks down the idea that either he or his wife is a stabilizing force or moral compass in the Trump administration. Multiple White House sources told her they think it was Kushner who ordered the closing of White House visitor logs in April 2017, because he “didn’t want his frenetic networking exposed.” Ward reports that Cohn was stunned by their blasé reaction to Trump’s defense of the white-nationalist marchers in Charlottesville, Va.: “He was upset that they were not sufficiently upset.”
Still, even if you assume that the couple are amoral climbers, their behavior still doesn’t quite make sense. Ward writes that Ivanka’s chief concern is her personal brand, but that brand has been trashed. The book cites an October 2017 survey measuring consumer approval of more than 1,600 brands. Ivanka’s fashion line was in the bottom 10. A leading real estate developer tells Ward that Kushner, now caught up in multiple state and federal investigations, has become radioactive: “No one will want to do business with him.” (Kushner resigned as C.E.O. of Kushner Companies in 2017, but has kept most of his stake in the business.)
To truly make sense of their motivations, Ward told me, you have to understand the gravitational pull of their fathers. Husband and wife are both “really extraordinarily orientated and identified through their respective fathers in a way that most fully formed adults are not,” she said.
“You’ll notice that the U.S. position toward Qatar changes when the Qataris bail out 666 Fifth Avenue,” said Ward, adding, “We look like a banana republic.” Maybe that’s why Jared and Ivanka appear so blithely confident. As public servants, they’re obviously way out of their depth. But as self-dealing scions of a gaudy autocracy? They’re naturals.
What happens if re-election is Trump’s best hope of avoiding an indictment?
Donald Trump — or, as he’s known to federal prosecutors, Individual-1 — might well be a criminal. That’s no longer just my opinion, or that of Democratic activists. It is the finding of Trump’s own Justice Department.
.. . The prosecutors argued that, in arranging payoffs to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, Cohen broke campaign finance laws, and in the process “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
.. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors wrote.
.. In other words, lawyers from the Justice Department have concluded that Trump may have committed a felony that went to the heart of the process that put him in office.
.. Trump’s potential criminality in this case, which raises questions about his legitimacy as president, creates a dilemma for Democrats. Assuming prosecutors are right about Trump’s conduct, it certainly seems impeachable; a situation in which a candidate cheats his way into the presidency is one the founders foresaw when they were designing the impeachment process. As George Mason argued at the Constitutional Convention, “Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”
.. But in our current moment, removing the president through impeachment is essentially impossible, given that at least 20 Senate Republicans would have to join Democrats. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who will soon lead the House Judiciary Committee, told me he wouldn’t consider impeachment proceedings without at least some Republican support.
.. Experts on both the left and the right believe that if Trump is voted out of office in 2020, before the five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance violations runs out, he could find himself in serious legal jeopardy.
.. The 2020 presidential election was always going to be extraordinarily ugly, but one can only imagine what Trump will do if the alternative to the White House is the big house. “It’s dangerous,” said Swalwell, who worries that Trump could become even more erratic, making decisions to save himself that involve “our troops or internal domestic security.”.. as long as Individual-1 is on the ticket, the 2020 election is set to be a banana republic-style death match. Trump will almost certainly try to criminalize his opponent — crowds at his rallies have taken to chanting “Lock her up” at the mention of virtually any Democratic woman’s name. And Democrats won’t be able to uphold the general principle that in American elections, losing doesn’t mean personal ruination, because for Trump it will and it should... There are ways to lower the stakes somewhat. Nadler told me he plans to introduce legislation that would freeze the statute of limitations for crimes committed by presidents, so they could be charged when their terms end. Such a law would at least mean that Trump couldn’t evade justice forever just by winning re-election... That would mitigate the peril to our democracy, but it wouldn’t come close to eliminating it. Our best hope may lie in the emergence of irrefutable evidence of further presidential crimes, enough to finally test the tolerance of at least some fraction of Republicans... After two years of hearing people say we were all trigger-happy on impeachment, now I’m hearing we’re all constitutional fraidy-cats. Give us a chance to do the fact investigation and figure out what happened.”.. But if the president has committed felonies, we also have to figure out how Republicans might be induced to care.
The criminalization of political differences destroys what’s left of civility in our political culture.
.. For a year, Democrats listened to crowds at Trump rallies and even the delegates at the Republican National Convention engage in chants of “lock her up.” Today, the Internet is reverberating with Democrats engaging in some virtual revenge as the latest leaks about the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians have indicated that Jared Kushner is a “person of interest.”
That means liberals are chortling about the president’s son-in-law having to choose between a jail cell and informing on his wife’s father.
.. Flynn is, of course, in no position to complain about people hoping to see him in jail, since he was the one that led the crowd in “lock her up” chants at the GOP convention in Cleveland.
.. The problem is that both parties seem to have lost the ability to oppose an administration or candidate without seeking to “lock up” the other side.
.. The current process by which foes are delegitimized means that all too many Americans don’t merely disagree with their opponents. The questioning of motives has now escalated to the point where Democrats believe that Republicans are not merely hard-hearted tools of the corporate class but willing to commit treason to gain a political advantage or increase profits to private interests.
.. many on the right not only condoned Trump’s birther smears about Obama but actually thought Hillary Clinton wanted four Americans to be murdered by terrorists in Benghazi and deliberately exposed U.S. secrets to foreign powers.
.. tolerance of opposing views in the public square has been discarded in favor of a Facebook-feed mentality in which all ideas and persons who don’t confirm our pre-existing prejudices and assumptions can be deleted and “defriended.”
The result isn’t just the collapse of civility that is taken for granted on both sides of the aisle but a political cycle in which the impulse to criminalize differences has become the default reaction to losing an election
If that is where we are, America is not merely a bifurcated nation but well on its way to banana-republic status.