Trump’s Darkest Days

Responsible journalists report that Trump White House aides (who are notoriously sieve-like) say the US president feels alone and cornered.

Feeling lonely should not be surprising, as Trump is not one for close friendships. He has proven time and again that for him, loyalty is a one-way street. Virtually no one who works for him can feel secure. Probably no one but his daughter Ivanka is safe from the terminal wrath that eventually pushes so many associates out the door.

.. Trump had dropped hints that he would pardon Manafort, but he was advised – and for once, he listened – that to do so before November’s midterm congressional elections would be catastrophic for the Republicans and therefore him. Manafort apparently calculated that he could neither bet on a pardon later – what if Trump himself was in serious legal danger by then? – nor afford another trial. His plea deal with Mueller strips him of most of his properties and tens of millions of dollars, but he was willing to accept huge financial losses to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

.. Manafort also wanted an arrangement that would keep his family safe. After all, he would be giving Mueller’s prosecutors the goods on some Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin – folks who are not particularly gentle toward people who betray them.

.. Kavanaugh was a risky choice all along. Drawn from a list of other highly conservative possible nominees provided to the president by the right-wing Federalist Society, Kavanaugh stood apart for his extraordinary views about presidential power. Kavanaugh has written that he believed that a president cannot be investigated or prosecuted while he is in office.

.. This view that a president is above the law is unique (so far as is known) among serious legal scholars. Its appeal to Trump is obvious. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s views are far to the right on other issues as well

.. Republican leaders were desperate to get Kavanaugh confirmed before the midterms, lest their voters stay home out of disappointment and even anger if he wasn’t confirmed – in which case their worst nightmare, a Democratic takeover of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, could come true..

.. Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear, which (like previous books on Trump, but to a greater extent and with more depth) offers a devastating portrait of a dysfunctional White House. In particular, the book – together with an anonymous New York Times op-ed by a senior administration official – showed how far aides would go to keep an incurious, ignorant, and paranoid president from impulsively doing something disastrous.

..

Parsing Paul Manafort’s Plea Agreement for How Much Dirt He Has on Trump

As part of the plea, he agreed to coöperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Manafort will lose several properties, the money in several bank accounts, and a life-insurance policy, which appear to have value well in excess of ten million dollars. In exchange, Manafort was assured that he will spend no more than a decade in prison for the two charges, so long as he fully coöperates with Mueller.

.. The plea agreement specifically requires Manafort to disclose to the government “his participation in and knowledge of all criminal activities.”

.. But, even if Manafort had very little helpful to offer, he said, “this is a good deal for Mueller.” Mueller gets another guilty plea and avoids a potential loss at trial, which serves to undercut Trump’s repeated argument that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt.” Even if Mueller already knows everything that Manafort has to offer, it would be helpful to have another voice confirming details at some future criminal trial for some other defendant.

.. Among the Trump team, Manafort would be, by far, the most experienced in dealing with emissaries from Russia and its allies, and the one most likely to understand the various agendas of those present. He surely knows what he told Trump, Jr., Trump himself, Kushner, and others about the significance of the meeting.

.. Manafort can also potentially shed light on several key people and a number of events that the public still knows too little about. Was Manafort’s employee Konstantin Kilimnik a Russian intelligence asset? And did he serve as a channel between the Trump campaign and Moscow? When Manafort pondered giving Oleg Deripaska—a Russian oligarch close to Putin—insider access to the Trump campaign, what did he mean? What, if anything, did he end up offering Deripaska?

.. Rather than merely informing on others, this theory holds that he would be able to lay out the full story of collusion (if, indeed, there was any).

.. However, this plea agreement is not overly generous. It strips Manafort of much of his wealth and means that the man, who is sixty-nine years old, will likely spend a decade in prison.

.. This could be because Manafort doesn’t know as much as we might imagine, or, more likely, that Mueller already knows most of what Manafort could tell him.

.. Other potential witnesses, such as Allen Weisselberg and Michael Cohen, surely know far more about Trump’s own shady business dealings

.. the Mueller investigation will likely come down to one central question: Did senior members of the Trump campaign, with the explicit knowledge of Trump himself, actively work with Russian government actors to help sway the election so that Trump would win? If the answer is yes, then Trump will almost certainly be impeached and removed from office.

If Manafort were in a position to definitively answer that question, it seems unlikely he would have accepted this plea agreement. He would have been in a position to hold out for something far better.

Manafort plea talks could offer each side a small victory

“If it wasn’t for the possibility of a pardon, it would be insane for him not to cut a deal at this point,” said Cotter. “He’s already guaranteed to go to prison for years, he’s got little reasonable chance of winning in D.C., it’s in­cred­ibly expensive, and there’s no benefit to him (in going to trial). And he’s in the enviable position that, even after a conviction, if he’s willing to tell the truth, the government is still interested in talking to him. That’s pretty rare.”

.. By pleading, Manafort would also duck the cost of paying his legal team to represent him over a weeks-long trial. For complex white-collar cases like Manafort’s, the tab for such a trial could be $1 million or more.

The Daily 202: Fox fallout shows why Trump’s lawyers don’t want Mueller to get an interview

— The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. … Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”

.. The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama’s] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”

.. — The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”

.. “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe.

.. Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”

.. “Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,”

.. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’

.. Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.

.. — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)

.. — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’

.. “Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”