From Trump, No Respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the Rules

I was prepared for Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy, but his brazenness left me breathless. He pledged a speedy Senate vote on a Trump-nominated replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than two hours after news of her death broke.

He couldn’t have waited, I don’t know, six hours? A day? Out of respect?

Silly question. Silly me. I sometimes forget the era we’re living in and the president we’re living under. McConnell understands that neither is about propriety, procedure, precedent. They’re about taking whatever can be taken and exploiting whatever can be exploited.

Rules are for fools. To the cheaters go the spoils. That’s President Trump’s credo. And he hasn’t been proven wrong yet.

Technically, yes, it’s Trump’s right to nominate a new Supreme Court justice as soon as he wants and for as long as he’s in office — and he indeed signaled in a tweet on Saturday morning that he wanted to move forward “without delay.” McConnell, for his part, can absolutely try to hustle that nominee through Senate confirmation.

But McConnell would be violating his own code, the one he adopted after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. McConnell then decreed that with an election just nine months away, President Obama should not be allowed to fill a court vacancy. The American people should first be allowed to speak through their presidential ballots in early November.

Now an election is little more than one month away. And that code — poof! — is gone. McConnell’s quickness to abandon it arises principally from his own unscrupulousness but owes something as well to his confidence about Trump’s ethically inverted inclinations, which are that it matters only whether you win or lose, not how you play the game.

Look at the unfolding election. President Trump and his allies have been stubbornly trying to prevent Americans from voting by mail, which is known to be more popular with Democrats than with Republicans. While you can call this an attack on democracy, you can instead be blunter and truer to its intent. You can call it cheating.

On his own or with the aid of apparatchiks like Michael Caputo, the president has sought to manipulate, minimize or repudiate statistics and studies that render a withering verdict on America’s battle against the coronavirus. This has been characterized, rightly, as an insult to science and to the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s also cheating.

As Republicans maneuvered to get Kanye West on the ballot in states where he might siphon votes from Joe Biden, Jared Kushner just so happened to huddle with the entertainer in Telluride, Colo.

It could be that each enjoys basking at high altitudes in the other’s affluence. Or it could be that Kushner was conniving with West in violation of federal election law: in other words, cheating.

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin last month. He has repeatedly made versions of that claim, at one point exhorting North Carolinians to monitor polling sites and “watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing” by Democrats, who will work to lift Biden to victory by “doing very bad things.”

And it’s a perfect example of Trump’s tendency to assign his own motives and methods to others. He worries that they’ll cheat because he has always cheated — on his taxeson his wivesin his business dealingsin his philanthropy. He imagines them cheating because he actually is cheating.

He considers it their only hope because it may well be his only hope, given his persistently underwhelming approval ratings and some 200,000 Americans dead from causes related to the coronavirus. And when you step back and take in the scope of his cheating, it’s shocking.

But exactly no one is shocked. This is Trump, after all. He will wipe his memory clean of Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee whom Republicans refused to consider for the court, as he races to wipe the court clean of Ginsburg’s memory. He’s the bearer of double standards. Trump approaches “cheating as a way of life,” his niece Mary, a clinical psychologist, once explained. She has recordings of one of Trump’s sisters, Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal judge, saying that he had someone else take the SAT for him.

He is infamous for stiffing creditors and being sued by them, for using bankruptcy laws to lessen or evade the personal financial impact of corporate disasters, for inflating his net worth when that suited his image, for undervaluing his assets when that suited his tax returns, for assuming the fictive identity of a publicist to call journalists and whisper flattering secrets about himself. These behaviors could variously be tucked under the subheadings of hard-nosed business tactics, creative public relations and egomaniacal pathology. But the banner over them all? Cheating.

The presidency has no more altered that ethos than it has ennobled him. The White House is just a highfalutin stage for the same old huckster, a fact made crassly clear by his exploitation of those trappings for his big convention speech. The fireworks at the finish spelled more than his name. They spelled cheating.

Under the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from engaging in overtly political activities while on the job, that whole climactic evening (Ivanka as Evita!) shouldn’t have happened, and Mike Pompeo shouldn’t have stumped for Trump while on a diplomatic trip abroad, and Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, shouldn’t have been swearing in new citizens as Trump-burnishing convention theater.

But Trump’s cheating is its own virus, infecting everyone around him. Trump’s cheating is its own ecosystem. Abandon all scruple, ye who enter here.

Trump was impeached because he tried to cheat, pressuring Ukraine to do a political hit job on Biden. But the cheating didn’t stop there: As John Bolton revealed in “The Room Where It Happened,” Trump pleaded with the Chinese president to buy more American agricultural exports, because that might help his prospects for re-election.

By refusing to condemn Russian interference in American elections — an orientation evident in the diluting of intelligence reports about Russia’s aims and activities — he’s essentially inviting a fresh round of Russian cheating in 2020 on his behalf.

Meanwhile, he and his administration take various tacks to fool voters about the pandemic’s severity. His health department, not C.D.C. scientists, schemed to change coronavirus testing recommendations in a manner sure to depress the number of recorded cases. He and his administration have tried to intimidate and discredit the C.D.C. in additional ways. And he promoted a bogus claim that the coronavirus death toll was just 6 percent of the correct figure.

But his and his Republican allies’ most flagrant cheating is in the realm of voting. Republicans in multiple states have fought against secure drop boxes for ballots that give people concerned about exposure to the coronavirus an alternative to traditional polling sites. They have opposed the expansion of such sites.

Although voting by mail makes by far the most sense during a pandemic and has gone smoothly in states that have long used it, Trump is determined to thwart it. His campaign has filed suit against three states that are trying to institute universal mail-in voting. He has advocated a slowdown in the United States Postal Service precisely because it could impede the timely arrival of ballots.

And, knowing full well that many mail-in ballots may not be counted until the days immediately following Nov. 3, Trump tweeted: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” To translate: Trump doesn’t want a full tally. He wants a partial one that’s partial to him.

And he wants the whole process shrouded in doubt. As Richard Hasen, the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy,” wrote in The Times last month, “The most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November. The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election, laying the groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses.”

“Laying the groundwork” is euphemistic for cheating, and what a grand form of cheating at that: the prophylactic invalidation of any outcome displeasing to Trump. He went so far as to suggest postponing the election, and while he had to know that the idea was a non-starter, he also knew that it further seeded cynicism among some voters about a trustworthy process.

In the context of cheating as epic as that, jamming yet another of his nominees onto the Supreme Court as the clock runs out is nothing.

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.”

 

Trump’s Tariffs Prompt Global Threats of Retaliation

The European Union detailed a three-step plan to penalize $3.5 billion of American trade — the same amount of European steel and aluminum the bloc estimates would be harmed by the planned tariffs. It proposed taxing American exports including bourbon, bluejeans, orange juice, cranberries, rice and motorcycles.

A European Union official said that the bloc had been preparing for the announcement for months and that everything was in place for a swift, proportionate response.

.. The measures were intended to put pressure on politically sensitive areas, trade analysts said. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are made in the home district of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin. Orange juice comes from the swing state of Florida. Restrictions on Kentucky bourbon could add pressure on the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who is from the state.

.. Retaliation could hit hardest in many of the rural communities that were strongholds for Mr. Trump. Farmers are among America’s largest exporters, and often become a target in trade spats

.. She said the agricultural community was “rightly nervous” about the prospect.

.. Canada and Mexico were America’s No. 1 and No. 3 largest agricultural markets in 2016, and South Korea is a major market for beef, corn, pork and fresh fruit

.. The United States exports cotton to Turkey and wheat and dairy to Brazil, other major suppliers of steel.

.. Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, said he did not believe any country would retaliate, “for the simple reason that we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world.”

“They know they’re cheating us, and all we’re doing is standing up for ourselves,” he added.

.. if the United States was willing to impose penalties like these on its close trading partners, other countries would be less eager to negotiate trade deals with the United States. “What is the benefit of having a special relationship?” he asked. “I think there could be a lot of unintended and unforeseen consequences.”