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?
Mr. Weisselberg has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, and was once described by a person close to the company as “the most senior person in the organization that’s not a Trump.” After Mr. Trump was elected, he handed control of his financial assets and business interests to his two adult sons and Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg, a reserved accountant associates say is prized by Mr. Trump for his loyalty, has handled personal financial matters for Mr. Trump and has also been linked to payments made to two women who alleged they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump.
.. During his effort to secure the retainer, Mr. Cohen showed Mr. Weisselberg records that he said related to expenditures he had made on behalf of Mr. Trump from his personal home-equity line of credit, this person said.
.. In the recording, which Mr. Cohen secretly made and which is under review by federal investigators, Mr. Cohen said he would set up a company to make the payment, adding, “I’ve spoken with Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” before Mr. Trump interrupts him.
.. Later in the conversation, Mr. Cohen reiterates that he “spoke with Allen” about the plan to finance the payment.
.. Mr. Cohen’s repeated references to Mr. Weisselberg in his conversation with Mr. Trump about buying the story were interpreted by others in the company as an effort to bolster Mr. Cohen’s credibility, according to a former associate of Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg’s ties to the Trump family date back to days of working for the real-estate firm owned by Mr. Trump’s father, Fred, in the 1980s. He later came to the Trump Organization, where he reported directly to Donald Trump and worked out of an office in Trump Tower.
He was long an understated presence—one former colleague told the Journal in 2016 that Mr. Weisselberg “fits in with the wallpaper”—but with a temper that flared at times and an ability to crunch numbers rapidly
.. Mr. Weisselberg long performed tasks such as arranging for checks that Mr. Trump would sign, but also took on an increasingly large role at the company. If he thought there might be questions about whether or not to pay a supplier the full amount the Trump Organization owed, he would direct executives to check directly with Mr. Trump, one former executive said.
Over the years, Mr. Weisselberg has handled dealings with banks and other important matters, according to the former executives. He oversaw many of Mr. Trump’s personal transactions, the Journal has reported, citing a former Trump executive, including paying household expenses as well as the purchases of boats, planes or other personal properties.
For years, at least through the financial crisis, Mr. Weisselberg prepared Mr. Trump’s tax returns, according to one former Trump Organization employee.
Another former executive said Mr. Trump would sometimes point out to him how Mr. Weisselberg had been loyal to him for decades. In the course of business meetings, Mr. Trump also at times would reflexively ask his CFO to confirm his opinion. During one meeting, in 2015, Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Weisselberg and asked, according to a person who was there:
“Isn’t that right, Allen?”
“One-thousand percent right,” Mr. Weisselberg responded.
To protect his boss at critical junctures in his improbable political rise, the lawyer relied on intimidation tactics, hush money and the nation’s leading tabloid news business, American Media Inc., whose top executives include close Trump allies.
.. in the summer of 2015, when a former hedge-fund manager told Mr. Cohen that he had obtained photographs of Mr. Trump with a bare-breasted woman. The man said Mr. Cohen first blew up at him, then steered him to David J. Pecker, chairman of the tabloid company, which sometimes bought, then buried, embarrassing material about his high-profile friends and allies.
.. a female former Trump business partner had accused him of sexual misconduct, Mr. Cohen released a statement suggesting that the woman, Jill Harth, “would acknowledge” that the story was false. Ms. Harth said the statement was made without her permission, and that she stands by her claims. It was not the last time Mr. Cohen would present a denial on behalf of a woman who had alleged a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
.. American Media publications, which include The National Enquirer, Star, Us Weekly and Radar.
.. July 2015 when Mr. Cohen received a phone call from Jeremy Frommer, a hedge-fund manager turned digital entrepreneur, who had obtained photos of Mr. Trump appearing to autograph the breasts of a topless woman from the estate of Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine.
.. “He was in a rage,” Mr. Frommer said in an interview. “He’s like, ‘If you show those photos, I’m gonna take you down.’”
.. It was a job Roy Cohn, a New York lawyer best known for advising Senator Joseph McCarthy, had done decades earlier for Mr. Trump.
.. Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump, a staple of the American gossip media since the 1980s, have a friendship that goes back decades. The relationship benefited Mr. Trump throughout the campaign as The Enquirer lionized him and hammered rivals like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, finally, Hillary Clinton.
Days after a woman accused U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual impropriety, two Moore supporters approached her attorney with an unusual request.
They asked lawyer Eddie Sexton to drop the woman as a client and say publicly that he did not believe her. The damaging statement would be given to Breitbart News, then run by former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
In exchange, Sexton said in recent interviews, the men offered to pay him $10,000 and promised to introduce him to Bannon and others in the nation’s capital. Parts of Sexton’s account are supported by recorded phone conversations, text messages and people in whom he confided at the time.
.. “What they’re saying, all they want to do is cloud something,” Gary Lantrip, who attended at least one private fundraising event for Moore, said during a phone call recorded by Sexton. “They said if they cloud, like, two of them, then that’s all they need.”
.. Under federal law, banks are required to flag transactions that have no business or apparent lawful purpose or that deviate inexplicably from a customer’s normal bank activity.
.. The one-year lag between the payment by Mr. Cohen and the bank inquiry is unusual. It suggests that City National received new information that prompted it to take a fresh look at the transaction
.. Mr. Cohen’s role in a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015 and early 2016, the Journal has reported. In a September 2017 statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Cohen said the proposal was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more” and noted it was terminated “months before the first primary.”
they are serving in the least ethical administration in our history? The “our” is important, because there have been more crooked regimes — but only in banana republics. The corruption and malfeasance of the Trump administration is unprecedented in U.S. history. The only points of comparison are the Gilded Age scandals of the Grant administration, Teapot Dome under the Harding administration, and Watergate and the bribe-taking of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the Nixon administration.
.. tweet from President Trump: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. . . . Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Translation: Trump is exercised that the Justice Department is following its normal procedures.
Sessions fired back: “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor.” Translation: The president is asking him to act without“integrity and honor.”
.. This is part of a long pattern of the president pressuring the “beleaguered” Sessions — a.k.a. “Mr. Magoo” — to misuse his authority to shut down the special counsel investigation of Trump and to launch investigations of Trump’s political foes. Because Sessions won’t do that, Trump has tried to force him from office. The president does not recognize that he is doing anything improper. He thinks the attorney general should be his private lawyer.
.. The poor man has no idea of what the “rule of law” even means
.. he said: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” This from a supposed supporter of the Second Amendment.
This is a president, after all, whose
- communications director quit on Wednesday after admitting to lying (but insists her resignation was unrelated); whose
- senior staff included an alleged wife-beater; whose
- former national security adviser and deputy campaign manager have pleaded guilty to felonies; whose
- onetime campaign chairman faces 27 criminal charges, including conspiracy against the United States; whose
- attorney paid off a porn star; and whose
- son mixed family and government business on a trip to India.
. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”
.. If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the right’s tacit embrace of a laissez faire approach to sexuality — at least male, heterosexual sexuality — coincides with attempts on the left to erect new ethical guardrails around sex.
.. In the 1990s, many feminists defended untrammeled eros because they feared a conservative sexual inquisition. Elements of that inquisition remain; attacks on reproductive rights have grown only more intense. Still, Trump has reconciled reactionary politics with male sexual license. In doing so, he’s made such license easier for feminists to criticize.
.. Among feminists, reaction to the piece broke down roughly generationally. Grace interpreted her experience as sexual assault, but several older writers saw it as a story about caddishness and bad sex, neither of which justified the invasion of Ansari’s privacy. In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan described it as “3,000 words of revenge porn” inspired by romantic disappointment.
.. I agree with Flanagan that the bad behavior Grace described doesn’t rise to the level of assault or harassment, and I don’t think Babe should have published the story. Still, I can sympathize with the younger feminists who are pushing the limits of the #MeToo movement. They are, it seems to me, trying to impose new norms of consideration on a brutal sexual culture, without appealing to religious sanction or patriarchal chivalry.
“A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction,” tweeted the feminist writer Jessica Valenti. “But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”
Maybe feminists feel free to express their fury about the path sexual liberation has taken because they no longer need to defend sexual liberation itself from conservatives. In the 1990s, porn culture seemed subversive and chic. Now it’s become repulsively presidential.