Morality and Michael Cohen

Wednesday’s testimony and the crisis of American conscience.

I often wonder who didn’t love Donald Trump. I often wonder who left an affection void that he has tried to fill by winning attention, which is not the same thing. He’s turned his life into a marketing strategy. As Michael Cohen said in his testimony on Wednesday, even the presidential campaign was a marketing campaign to build the Trump brand.

In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love.

Imagine what your own life would be like if you had no love in it, if you were just using people and being used. Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path.

Nonetheless, his kind of life has an allure for other lonely people who also live under the illusion that you can win love and respect with bling and buzz. Michael Cohen was one of these people. He testified that in serving Donald Trump he felt he was serving a cause larger than self. Those causes were celebrity and wealth.

.. Getting arrested seems to have been a good education for Cohen. He now realizes that Trump will not provide him with the sustenance he needs. I believe that Cohen basically told the truth in his testimony on Wednesday, but I don’t believe that he is a changed man.

There is none of the purgation of self and transformation of spirit that happens among people who have truly been altered. He’s just switched teams and concluded that the Democrats can now give him what he wants, so he says what appeals to them. That may be progress, but it is not moral renewal.

Cohen has left the Thugs for Trump club and passed that baton to certain House Republicans. I would have loved to have been in the strategy session when the House Republicans decided to be incurious about Trump’s sins and crimes but to rip the skin off Cohen.

Normal people have moral sentiments. Normal people are repulsed when the president of their own nation lies, cheats, practices bigotry, allegedly pays off porn star mistresses.

Were Republican House members enthusiastic or morose as they decided to turn off their own moral circuits, when they decided to be monumentally unconcerned by the fact that their leader may be a moral cretin?

Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road? Having turned off their soul at work, do they think they will be able to turn it on again when they go home to the spouse and kids?

Of course Omarosa has tapes

It’s hard to take Omarosa Manigault Newman’s word for anything. But Lordy, she has tapes, and they offer vivid proof that Donald Trump’s White House is part clown show, part nest of vipers.

.. she performed with Shakespearean villainy —

  • lying,
  • cheating,
  • backstabbing,
  • viciously advancing her own interests and
  • sabotaging her rivals.

Trump evidently found all of this admirable, because he insisted on bringing her into his administration as a top-level adviser despite her utter lack of experience and qualifications. They deserve each other.

.. Omarosa’s recording of part of that meeting was aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In it, Kelly is heard making what sounds very much like a threat:

“I think it’s important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be, you know, we can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, Omarosa subsequently received a generous offer. She could receive $15,000 a month to perform vaguely defined duties for Trump’s reelection campaign. But she would have to sign a nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreement pledging not to say detrimental things about President Trump, Vice President Pence or their family members.

.. She declined the offer but kept the documents she was asked to sign — and showed them to The Post last week.

..  She never made it, never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her but heard really bad things. Nasty to people & would constantly miss meetings & work. When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!”

.. Trump went on to complain that “the Fake News Media will be working overtime” to make Omarosa seem credible now that she is one of his critics. But that’s certainly not my intent. She strikes me as a rank opportunist whose only allegiance is to herself.

She claims to have realized only recently that Trump is a “racist, misogynist and bigot.” Yet she heard his bigoted attacks on Latino immigrants and still went to work for his campaign. She heard his misogynistic rant about how he sexually assaulted women and still took a job in his administration. She heard his many appeals to white racial grievance and still vigorously defended him, even after Charlottesville.

.. So no, I’m not inclined to believe anything she claims without documentary evidence to back it up. But the tapes and the documents have not been disputed. Omarosa may not have obtained them honorably, but the old saying is true: There is no honor among thieves.

.. We don’t know what else might be in the conversations with Trump that lawyer Michael Cohen taped. We don’t know how many other recordings Omarosa might have made. We don’t know who else in the White House might have been keeping their own unauthorized records of conversations and events.

What we do know is why people in Trump’s orbit feel they need such insurance: Dishonor and disloyalty start at the top.

 

Paul Manafort Trial: Gates Admits Having Affair as Defense Attacks Him

When one of the defense lawyers tried to suggest to Mr. Manafort’s tax accountant Monday that Mr. Gates had kept Mr. Manafort in the dark about his own finances, the accountant, Cynthia Laporta, pushed back.

“In most instances, it was clear that Mr. Manafort was aware what was going on,” she testified.

Mr. Gates’s statements reinforced that picture. He said that Mr. Manafort knew it was illegal not to report his foreign bank accounts to the Treasury Department but asked Mr. Gates to help him deceive his accountants so he could conceal income and pay less in taxes.

“I assisted Mr. Manafort in filing false tax returns,” Mr. Gates testified. “We didn’t report the income or the fact that the accounts existed.”

.. He said that some of Mr. Manafort’s income was disguised as loans from 15 shell companies that Mr. Manafort controlled, most of them in Cyprus.

..  Once that income dried up, the government alleges, Mr. Manafort, with Mr. Gates’s help, falsified financial records so he could obtain bank loans to maintain his opulent lifestyle.
..  Gates testified that Mr. Manafort also was paid $4 million a year to help Mr. Yanukovych govern after he was elected president in 2010.
.. while Mr. Yanukovych ran on a platform of integrating with the European Union, while also maintaining good relations with Russia, he eventually pivoted toward Moscow
.. Mr. Gates also said that two American lobbying firms — the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs — assisted with their policy consulting efforts. Mr. Mueller’s team has referred cases related to the firms’ work to federal investigators in the Southern District of New York.
.. Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to help arrange inauguration tickets and administration posts — including secretary of the Army — for a banker from whom Mr. Manafort is accused of fraudulently seeking loans, Mr. Gates testified.

.. Emails presented during Mr. Manafort’s trial showed that he sought the favors for Stephen M. Calk, the founder and chief executive of The Federal Savings Bank of Chicago. The bank began issuing loans that eventually totaled $16 million to Mr. Manafort in the days after Mr. Trump’s election based on false information provided by Mr. Manafort.

..  Mr. Gates said he was involved in discussions about nominating Mr. Calk to an economic advisory council.

.. Mr. Gates, 46, admitted Monday that he was guilty of a long list of crimes, including stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Manafort’s accounts by inflating his business expenses. He said that while he was helping Mr. Manafort hide income to evade taxes, and later to inflate his income to obtain bank loans, he was doing essentially the same on his own behalf.

..  In exchange for his cooperation, the government in February agreed to dismiss 22 criminal charges stemming from his involvement in the scheme for which Mr. Manafort is now on trial.

.. sentencing guidelines recommend a prison term of up to six years, he testified that prosecutors have agreed not to object if his defense attorney argues that he should receive probation.

The Don and His Badfellas

The Trumps have often been compared to a mob family. Certainly, in the White House, they have created a dark alternative universe with an inverted ethical code, where the main value is loyalty to the godfather above all else.

An anti-Trump group called Mad Dog PAC has a billboard reading: “MAGA, Mobsters Are Governing America.”

.. As Michael Daly noted in The Daily Beast, “Traditionally, rats begin wearing a wire after they get jammed up.”

.. In the taped call, Cohen tells Trump that he has talked to the mogul’s trusted money manager and “Apprentice” guest star, Allen Weisselberg, about how to set up a company to reimburse David Pecker, the National Enquirer owner, for buying off Trump goomah Karen McDougal. Federal investigators in Manhattan now want to interview Weisselberg.

“Long term, this could be the most damaging,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me, “because it gets into Trump’s wallet.”

.. Cohen the Fixer claims Trump knew about the Russian meeting during the campaign with his son and Paul Manafort. The president hit the mattresses on Twitter, denying it all.

.. Rudy Giuliani has somersaulted from a RICO-happy prosecutor to a man acting like a Mafia lawyer, telling Chris Cuomo that Cohen is an “incredible liar” when only three months ago he pronounced him “an honest, honorable lawyer.”

.. If the White House seems more and more like “Goodfellas,” it is not an accident.

Trump has a very cinematic sense of himself,” O’Brien said. Like many on social media, he is driven to be the star of his own movie. He even considered going to film school in L.A. before he settled into his father’s business.

.. O’Brien recalled that Trump told him that he thought Clint Eastwood was the greatest movie star. “He and Melania model their squints on Eastwood,” the biographer noted. Trump also remarked, while they were watching “Sunset Boulevard” on the Trump plane, that a particular scene was amazing: the one where Norma Desmond obsessively watches her silent films and cries: “Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them!”

.. Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as

  • “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,”
  • “Goodfellas” and
  • “The Godfather.”

.. As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box:

  • George Steinbrenner,
  • Lee Iacocca,
  • Frank Sinatra,
  • Roy Cohn,
  • Rupert Murdoch,
  • Cary Grant.

He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.

.. “In his first big apartment project, Trump’s father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families,” said Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer. “He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.

.. “When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad — which was the only time he got to spend with him — he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about ‘Goodfellas’ — people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn’t have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk.”

As Steve Bannon noted approvingly, Trump has a Rat Pack air, and as O’Brien said, Trump was the sort of guy who kept gold bullion in his office.

.. Trump’s like a mobster, D’Antonio said, in the sense that he “does not believe that anyone is honest. He doesn’t believe that your motivations have anything to do with right and wrong and public service. It’s all about self-interest and a war of all against all. He’s turning America into Mulberry Street in the ’20s, where you meet your co-conspirators in the back of the candy store.”