The week before Christmas may go down as the strangest and most revealing of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Over just a few days, his sheer
- venality and
were laid bare. But it was also a time for Trumpian good deeds that allowed us a glimpse at how he might have governed if he had been shrewder — and had a genuine interest in the good that government can do.
.. Let’s start with his display of gangsterism and utter indifference to the law in a tweet Sunday calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “Rat” for telling the truth about various matters, including his dealings with Russia to build a Trump tower in Moscow and the president’s payoffs before the 2016 election to hide his alleged sexual conduct.
“Rat,” as many have pointed out, is a legendary organized-crime epithet, and we really are gazing at something like the Trump Family Syndicate. On Tuesday, the New York state attorney general, Barbara Underwood, forced the closure of the Donald J. Trump Foundation for what she described as “a shocking pattern of illegality.” She said the foundation functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
And, yes, this was an all-in-the-family thing. The foundation’s board consistedof Trump himself, his three adult children and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Incidentally, if you wonder why Trump hates the media so much, consider that it was the painstaking work of The Post’s David Fahrenthold that first blew the lid off Trump’s scamming disguised as charity.
.. But that wasn’t all. Two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee made it abundantly clear that Trump was Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate in 2016 — and remained Putin’s guy after he won.
This is a key civil rights issue of our time. (Voting rights is another, and on this problem Trump is pushing entirely in the wrong direction.) The long sentences the new law would roll back hit African Americans the hardest. That’s particularly true of the disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine sellers that the legislation would mitigate.
It’s often observed that Trump has few discernible political principles. A problem in many respects, this did give Trump enormous flexibility when he came into office. What if he had governed in other areas with the same eye toward bipartisan agreement that led him to criminal-justice reform?
Imagine a big infrastructure bill or a far less regressive approach to tax reform. Democrats would have been hard-pressed not to work with him. Instead, Trump just kept dividing us and stoking his base. He lazily went along with traditional conservatives on taxes and corporate lobbyists in the regulatory sphere because governing was never really the point. And now, he is reaping the whirlwind.
Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.
- Trump’s private company is contending with civil suits digging into its businesswith foreign governments and with looming state inquiries into its tax practices.
- Trump’s 2016 campaign is under scrutiny by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation into Russian interference has already led to guilty pleas by his campaign chairman and four advisers.
- Trump’s inaugural committee has been probed by Mueller for illegal foreign donations, a topic that the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman plans to further investigate next year.
.. However, there has been one immediate impact on a president accustomed to dictating the country’s news cycles but who now struggles to keep up with them: Trump has been forced to spend his political capital — and that of his party — on his defense.
.. Trump has denied he directed Cohen to break the law by buying the silence of former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels. He also said Cohen, as his lawyer, bore responsibility for any campaign finance violations.
“I never directed him to do anything wrong,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “Whatever he did, he did on his own.”
.. Prosecutors also revealed Wednesday they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the company that produces the National Enquirer tabloid, for its role in the scheme.
The company admitted it had helped pay off one of Trump’s accusers during the campaign. It said it had done so in “cooperation, consultation, and concert with” one or more members of Trump’s campaign, according to court filings.
.. It is unclear whether prosecutors will pursue charges against campaign or Trump Organization officials as part of the case.
But at the White House, advisers have fretted that this case — and not Mueller’s — could be the biggest threat to Trump’s presidency. House Democrats have already indicated the campaign-finance allegations could be potential fodder for impeachment proceedings.
.. The nearly $107 million donated to Trump’s inaugural committee has drawn the attention of Mueller, who has probed whether illegal foreign contributions went to help put on the festivities.
The special counsel already referred one such case to federal prosecutors in Washington. In late August, an American political consultant, W. Samuel Patten, admitted steering $50,000 from a Ukrainian politician to the inaugural committee through a straw donor.
Patten pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign lobbyist and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
.. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that federal prosecutors in New York are examining whether the inaugural committee misspent funds. The Washington Post has not independently confirmed that report.
Officials with the committee, which was chaired by Trump’s friend Tom Barrack, said they were in full compliance “with all applicable laws and disclosure obligations” and have not received any records requests from prosecutors.
.. Trump also faces a pair of civil lawsuits alleging he has violated the Constitution by doing business with foreign and state governments while in office.
.. “What we want to do is be able to tie the flow of money from foreign and domestic sovereigns into Donald Trump’s pocketbook,” said Karl A. Racine (D), the D.C. attorney general. He called the emoluments clauses “our country’s first corruption law.”
.. The plaintiffs are seeking to have Trump barred from doing business with governments. But the more immediate threat for Trump and his company is the legal discovery process, in which the plaintiffs are seeking documents detailing his foreign customers, how much they paid — and how much wound up in the president’s pocket.
New York state inquiries
.. In New York, where Trump’s business is based, incoming Attorney General Letitia James (D) is preparing to launch several investigations into aspects of his company.
.. She said she wanted to look into whether Trump had violated the emoluments clause by doing business with foreign governments in New York and examine allegations detailed by the New York Times that Trump’s company engaged in questionable tax practices for decades.
New York state’s tax agency has also said it is considering an investigation into the company’s tax practices.
.. Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit against Trump and his three eldest children, alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a case spurred by reporting by The Post in 2016.
.. Trump is accused of violating several state charity laws, including using his charity’s money to pay off legal settlements for his for-profit businesses. He used the foundation to buy a portrait of himself that was hung up at one of his resorts. Trump also allegedly allowed his presidential campaign to dictate the charity’s giving in 2016 — despite laws that bar charities from participating in campaigns.
.. Meanwhile, a defamation suit against Trump by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos has also quietly advanced through the New York courts.
.. A judge has allowed Zervos to seek discovery — including possibly deposing the president — as the two sides wait for a panel of New York appellate judges to rule on Trump’s latest move to block the lawsuit.