America produced a corrupt president. We can do better.
.. Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, pined for a return to a pre-Trump America. “We have got to get back to normal,” he said.
But Normal America produced Donald Trump, fueled his cult of personality and created the conditions for him to rise to the height of political power. If anything, Michael Cohen’s testimony was a devastating indictment of decisions that Normal America made over the past few decades that produced President Trump in 2016.
Most of the charges — proven or alleged — against those caught up in the Mueller investigation are not obviously related to treasonous collusion with Moscow. It’s proof, the president’s blinkered backers bray, that the whole inquiry is a waste of time.
Read another way, that set of facts shows how decades of declining prosecutions of white-collar crimes may have allowed Paul Manafort, a man guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, to lead a presidential campaign. If the number of white-collar crimes prosecuted by the Justice Department had not fallen more than 40 percent in the past 20 years, perhaps Mr. Cohen, who committed tax fraud and bank fraud, might not have ascended to become deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a post he held until June 2018.
Then there’s the president himself, Exhibit A of what happens when a country spends decades treating crimes by the poor as felonies and crimes by the powerful as misdemeanors.
At the start of Mr. Trump’s career, he and his father were charged with discriminating against African-Americans in their apartment rentals. Father and son settled with the government and admitted no wrongdoing.
Later in life, Mr. Trump’s casino was charged with money laundering and got off with a fine. Just after Mr. Trump was elected, his cardboard castle of a university that bore his name settled a class-action lawsuit brought by from former students.
It took a shoe-leather investigation by The Washington Post to prompt authorities to assess that the Trump Foundation, founded in 1987, was being used as the family A.T.M. The New York State attorney general charged the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” Imagine if the foundation had been scrutinized years before Mr. Trump ran for president.
Democrats, paging through the catalog of legal malfeasance connected to the president, worry that investigating too many of them will make the party vulnerable to claims of overreach. But exuberance in defense of justice is no vice, so as long as they don’t go full #Benghazi. After all, accountability has been in short supply of late.
Donald Trump specializes in spectacular breakups.
First there was Ivana. Then there was Marla. Now comes trouble in paradise with Kim.
.. This time, it wasn’t just lust, betrayal and secrets splayed across Page Six. This time, it was in Congress, part of an investigation that could lead to legal jeopardy for the Trumps or impeachment for the president.
.. In his testimony, Michael Cohen called himself a “fool” when it came to Trump. “I ignored my conscience and acted loyal to a man when I should not have,” Cohen said. A fool for love, held in thrall by Trump. How could anyone be held in thrall by such a sleazy goofball, much less offer to take a bullet for him or make 500 threats on his behalf?
.. “It seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong,” said Cohen in his “Goodfellas” accent, adding that being around the “icon” was “intoxicating.”
“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen said. “He is complicated, as am I.”
Actually, Trump is simple, grasping for money, attention and fame. The enigma about Trump is why he cut off his lap dog so brutally that Cohen fell into the embrace of Robert Mueller and New York federal prosecutors. Trump is often compared to a mob boss, but Michael Corleone would never turn on a loyal capo, only on one who had crossed him.
The portrait Cohen drew of Trump was not surprising. It has been apparent for some time that the president is a con man, racist, cheat and liar. (See: Jared Kushner security clearance.)
What was most compelling about the congressional hearing was the portrait of the sadistic relationship between the sycophant and the sociopath.
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?
“I am so proud to take the @CPAC stage tomorrow morning w two of my heroes @RepMarkMeadows and @Jim_Jordan who were courageous in Congress today,” he wrote. “You speak for all of us.”
But former governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), who is close to the president, said on ABC that he can “guarantee” Trump is “sitting in Vietnam right now, fuming that no one’s defending him.” He also argued the performance was “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.”
“There hasn’t been one Republican yet who’s tried to defend the president on the substance,” he said. “As the day goes on, [people are] going to get tired of hearing the attacks on Cohen’s credibility. . . . Where’s the defense of the president?”
Other Republicans on the Hill privately agreed. Most, however, mused that Jordan couldn’t have done any better given his position in the minority and the fact that Republicans were defending Trump.
“Truthfully, it is tough to ignore some of the gross immoral behavior by the president,” said one senior House Republican who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “The reason there was no defense is because there is no defense.”
Jordan, a fierce Trump ally, said his strategy was working during a committee break Wednesday evening. His members had prepared and coordinated and “were in touch with all kinds of people” to get ready, he said — though he played coy when asked about coordination with White House.
GOP leaders were apprised of the strategy to discredit Cohen as untrustworthy. But they gave Jordan, who is known for his bulldog-like tactics grilling witnesses during hearings, free rein.
“We’re asking the questions that we think need to be asked,” Jordan said of his strategy. “We’re making the point that we think the American people need to understand, plain and simply.”
Jordan pointed to Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky.) line of questioning when pressed for an example of a defense of Trump. Massie had referenced Cohen’s written testimony, in which he said he paid money to a porn star without considering whether it was the right thing to do.
“Is that being a good lawyer? To not even consider whether it’s legal or not?” Massie asked. Cohen didn’t answer the question, merely arguing that he did what he thought Trump wanted.
The hearing marked Jordan’s first turn in the spotlight as the leader of the committee’s Republicans. Trump personally wanted him or his close friend Meadows to lead his defense against the Democrats. And many Republicans in the House, well-versed in Jordan’s tactics, agreed with the promotion.
When Republicans did try to defend Trump, their approach didn’t seem to elicit the intended effect. Meadows tried to parry Cohen’s allegation that Trump was a racist by inviting a longtime black friend of Trump’s, Lynne Patton, to stand behind him.
But the moment attracted criticism, when two black Democrats on the panel scoffed at Meadows’s suggestion that a person with a black friend could not possibly be a racist.
“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a freshman legislator, asked Cohen at one point.
The question was clearly for Meadows. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), another freshman, was less forgiving and even seemed to suggest Meadows was racist for bringing in a black woman and using her as “a prop” to defend the president.