The Id in the White House

Among the several deranged things Trump tweeted this morning was this:

I have no memory of Lester Holt getting caught “fudging” any tape. Trump appears to be refering to the May 2017 interview in which Trump admitted he fired James Comey because of “this Russia thing.” NBC News has the entire, unedited video online.

It’s kind of fascinating that the Id in the White House brought this up today, more than a year later. Greg Sargent writes that people around The Creature believe he is vulnerable to impeachment on obstruction of justice charges, and I bet someone tried to explain to him why what he said to Lester Holt would become Exhibit A.

Naturally, in the Creature’s tiny mind, the facts must be re-arranged so that he never said it.

I believe I’ve already said that I doubt the House Democrats, assuming they take over the majority next year, will make a serious attempt to impeach Trump as long as there’s no chance he would be removed from office by the Senate. Nor should they, until enough Republican senators are on board with getting rid of him. But they will do everything short of that to destroy him politically, starting with releasing his tax returns. Heh.

The minions and toadies trying to protect The Creature are worried that he is not prepared for what’s likely to come at him from a Democratic House:

President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.

Within Trump’s orbit, there is consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands, and there has been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white-collar defense and political scandals.  …

… Still, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year. …

… One adviser recalled recently telling Trump, “They will crush you if they win. You don’t want them investigating every single thing you’ve done.”

The article goes on to say that Trump hasn’t seemed to have accepted the probability that the Dems will re-take the House. But we know it worries him, because he’s such a totally unfiltered id. His finances may be hidden, but whatever goes on in his psyche is as obvious as a wart on a nose.

Take Trump’s recent White House meeting with evangelical leaders, for example.

US President Donald Trump, facing scrutiny for hush money payments to a porn star and a former Playboy model, pleaded with evangelical leaders for political help during closed-door remarks on Monday, warning of dire consequences to their congregations should Republicans lose in November’s midterm elections.

“This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It’s a referendum on so much,” Trump told the assemblage of pastors and other Christian leaders gathered in the State Dining Room, according to a recording from people in the room.

“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa — these are violent people,” Trump said, describing what would happen should his voters fail to cast ballots. “You have tremendous power. You were saying, in this room, you have people who preach to almost 200 million people. Depending on which Sunday we’re talking about.”

Never mind that the violence part is nonsense. Never mind that Al Gore got into all kinds of trouble for making campaign phone calls from the White House, and here Trump was holding a campaign rally in the Oval Office. Let us put that aside. What’s fascinating about this is that it tells us what’s weighing on Trump’s psyche. He’s afraid. He wants his buddies the evangelical leaders to affirm his fear and make the scary things go away.

He showed us another glimpse into the Twilight Zone in his head by claiming to the evangelical leaders he had “got rid of” the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches from endorsing candidates.

“Now one of the things I’m most proud of is getting rid of the Johnson Amendment,” the president said, according to NBC News. “That was a disaster for you.”

But the law actually remains in place after an attempt to kill it last year was unsuccessful.

He did sign an executive order last year that eased enforcement of the Amendment, and maybe he thinks that was all it took to “get rid” of it.  I wanted to draw one of those consequence trees about what this claim might be telling us. At the top it would ask if Trump truly believed his executive order got rid of the Amendment. If Yes, that would lead to the conclusion he is mentally impaired; if No, he believed no one in the room would notice he was lying. And what conclusions might you draw from that? And that he was in the Oval Office urging evangelical leaders to break the law?

For some previews of Trump’s continuing psychological meltdown, see No Matter How Bad It Gets, Trump Will Never Give Up.

U.S. President Donald Trump makes motorboat noises. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RC1D94FA7CB0

This Is How It’s Done

Oklahoma state government has been run by the fracking industry in recent years. But maybe not for long. The state’s teachers got tired of being underpaid and seeing the education budget cut, year after year, to provide tax cuts for the energy industry. And they struck back.

They promised to make lawmakers pay for refusing to finance broader investments in education with larger tax hikes. “We got here by electing the wrong people to office,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told the New York Times in April. “We have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box.” Hamm and his fellow gas giants (almost certainly) made an equal and opposite vow — that those few Republicans who held the line against tax hikes of any kind would not regret their bravery.

Last night, Oklahoma’s GOP primary season came to an end — and the teachers beat the billionaires in a rout. Nineteen Republicans voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay last spring; only four will be on the ballot this November.

I say this tells us that the right issue really can be used as a wedge to pry corporate-captured legislators out of their seats.

NAFTA: Dead or Alive?

Here’s a transcript of the bizarre phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating to maybe replace NAFTA. It’s fairly obvious that Peña Nieto wasn’t really talking about replacing NAFTA and is also looking to include Canada in the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating, which Trump is not. Trump, for his part, seems mostly eager to have a trade agreement he can call something besides NAFTA.

This has to do — they used to call it NAFTA. We’re going to call it the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, and we’ll get rid of the name NAFTA. It has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by NAFTA for many years. And now it’s a really good deal for both countries, and we look very much forward to it.

After which, Peña Nieto said,

…the first reason for this call, Mr. President, is, first of all, to celebrate the understanding we have had between both negotiating peace on NAFTA, in the interest we have had for quite a few months now to renew it, to modernize it, to update it, and to generate a framework that will boost and potentiate productivity in North America.

It is our wish, Mr. President, that now Canada will also be able to be incorporated in all this. And I assume that they going to carry out negotiations of the sensitive bilateral issues between Mexico — rather, between Canada and the United States.

These two are not on the same page. Note that throughout the call Trump addressed the President of Mexico as “Enrique,” whiel the President of Mexico called Trump “President Trump” or “Mr. President.” Annoying.

Note also that Peña Nieto is a lame duck. President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will begin his administration on December 1. What he thinks of Trump and NAFTA I do not know, but according to the BBC, the Trump Administration is anxious to get the deal done before December 1.

Negotiators want to agree a deal before the newly elected Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, takes office in December. He has been reluctant to continue Enrique Pena Nieto’s police of opening up of Mexico’s energy sector, which could complicate negotiations.

In order to meet that deadline, the Trump administration must present Congress with a deal at least 90 days in advance – meaning the deadline is this Friday.

However, Mr Obrador said on Monday that the two-way agreement with the US was just the first step in a new treaty.

“We’re very interested in it remaining a three-country deal,” he said. “The free-trade agreement should remain as it was originally conceived.”

Charles Pierce:

Coming on the heels of the magnificent achievement of getting half the legislature to agree to kill the Affordable Care Act, which occasioned a White House hootenanny and came to nothing, and the towering diplomatic triumph with North Korea, which occasioned a brief burst of optimism and has come to nothing, we have a New Trade Deal With Mexico.

There will be a week or so of celebratory tweets and self-glorifying bloviating of all sorts — much of it, I’m ashamed to say, aimed at deflecting attention from the extended obsequies in Washington for John McCain this weekend. But Canada still has a vote here, and so does the Congress. My guess? NAFTA essentially will be back, rebranded under the TRUMP logo, and another great victory will be proclaimed.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board published today:

President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement with a deal just with Mexico was, like so much of what comes out of the White House, as much posturing as policy.

For starters, there is no deal with Mexico, at least not yet. There’s a “preliminary agreement in principle” by the two sides to update certain provisions of NAFTA, but Mexican officials said multiple times Monday that they have a non-trivial precondition: Canada must be on board too.

Trump and other administration officials didn’t acknowledge as much Monday. Instead, Trump threatened to slap tariffs on more Canadian goods if our neighbor to the north didn’t accede to terms in short order.

Second, if Canada does join in, the deal would look a lot like the old NAFTA regardless of what it’s called. The changes agreed to by Mexico resemble what the Obama administration was pursuing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade deal with 11 mostly Asian countries that Trump abandoned — just with fewer partners.

So, basically, Trump jumped the gun, announced a “deal” before there was one, and will submit some pile of papers to Congress to approve this week so they can squeak something through before the deadline. They must anticipate that once Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in inagurated, all negotiations will be off, so this is their last chance to replace NAFTA with something not called NAFTA, even if it’s pretty much the same thing.

Kevin Drum analyzes the “deal” and finds it vague. And it’s all about cars.

Note that nothing in this deal has anything to do with milk or lumber or fisheries or financial services or anything else. It’s just a couple of smallish changes to the section of NAFTA about cars. That’s it. That’s all that Donald Trump cares about. Plus he wants to rename the treaty because everyone hates NAFTA. I recommend MENGA, the Make El Norte Great Again Treaty.

There’s nothing in this “deal,” as far as it goes, that ought to be objectionable to Canada, Kevin Drum says. It’s entirely possible that Canada might sign on to it this week before the deadline. But it doesn’t actually replace NAFTA; not even close.

Trump is already calling the deal that isn’t a deal “the largest trade deal ever,” which is too stupid and pathetic to even qualify as hyperbole.

This is my new favorite photo of Trump, btw:

U.S. President Donald Trump announces an agreement with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

DNC Re-Arranges the Sofa Cushions

In what might be tentatively called a “step in the right direction,” the DNC has voted to strip superdelegates of some of their power, but it hasn’t gotten rid of them entirely. As I understand it, the superdelegates will no longer be allowed to vote on the first convention ballot, but can vote in subsequent ballots.

They did not say they would stop the practice of counting superdelegates as part of the delegate total while the primaries are ongoing, which gave us graphics like this in 2016:


Establishment Dems still refuse to see why that bothered people.

It also bothers me that no one seems to remember that Clinton did not win enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot in 2016. I keep reading that she did, but she didn’t. She needed 2,383 delegates to win the nomination and went into the convention with 2,220. She had the nomination on the first ballot because she had nearly all of the superdelegates. If the new rule had been in place in 2016, I assume the DNC  would have just quickly run the second vote, and nothing would have changed. But it’s odd to me that history has been rewritten so quickly, including by the usually careful Vox:

They [superdelegates] will get to take part in subsequent rounds of voting, but historically, that wouldn’t have mattered: The Democratic nominee has been settled on the first ballot of every convention since the 1970s.

Superdelegates and their power within the Democratic Party has been an issue eating at progressives since the 2016 election, when Sanders supporters complained that superdelegates skewed the nomination unfairly toward Clinton. (Superdelegates did not decide the Democratic nomination for Clinton — she got more votes than Sanders and won the pledged delegate total.)

With this rule change no doubt Clinton would have had the nomination on the second ballot in 2016, but not the first. It would have gone to the second ballot.

However, I think the important thing is that the superdelegate totals are not counted by anybody before the convention. And the superdelegates should not be pledged to a candidate in advance, although I admit that’s probably not enforceable. That’s why this is a half measure that might not prevent another party meltdown in the future.

This was bizarre:

Perez and other delegate reform supporters succeeded in weakening the establishment opposition by giving it more time to protest. But the opposition made one final push, picking up on a theme that the Congressional Black Caucus had aired last month — that to take away the votes of black superdelegates was to effectively suppress them.

Um, aren’t most of the superdelegates white?

The unofficial leaders of that faction, former party chair Don Fowler and California DNC member Bob Mulholland, are white.

Of course they are. This was bullshit.

Has the Endgame Started?

Frank Rich says so:

It is important to remember that the unrelenting lockstep loyalty of the feckless GOP leadership and the party’s base to Trump are not indicators of his fate. An occasional outlier in the Jeff Flake vein aside, Nixon’s party was wholly loyal to him too. Like today’s Vichy Republicans, they remained loyal despite the indictments of Cabinet members and aides as close to Nixon as Manafort, Cohen, and Michael Flynn have been to Trump. They remained loyal after the nation was riveted by the devastating Watergate hearings of the summer of 1973, which portrayed all the president’s men as counterparts to the mobsters seen in the previous year’s Hollywood hit The Godfather.They remained loyal even that fall, when Nixon’s firing of the special prosecutor in the “Saturday Night Massacre” attempted to blowtorch the Constitution and the rule of law.

As a counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the 1974 impeachment inquiry pointed out in a Times op-ed piece ten days ago, Nixon’s defenders routinely dismissed Watergate investigations as a political “witch hunt” intended to reverse the Democrats’ 1972 electoral defeat. As late as the end of July 1974 — less than two weeks before Nixon’s August 9 helicopter departure from the White House lawn — most Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against all articles of impeachment. Many Republicans on the committee continued to support him even after the August 5 release of the “smoking gun” tape revealing that Nixon had ordered a cover up of the Watergate crimes.

The kicker, of course, is that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress at the time. But they still needed Republican votes in the Senate to remove Nixon from office. When a delegation of Republican senators led by Barry Goldwater told him that the Senate would vote to convict him, Nixon resigned the next day.

Trump, unlike Nixon, is out of touch with reality. He doesn’t know how to count votes, and he believes he can defy the law with impunity. (Nixon, a lawyer, could only lie to himself about his criminal exposure up to a point.) But, whether Trump recognizes it or not, the fact remains that his main and perhaps only hope for clinging to office is that Republicans hold the House in November.

It’s unlikely that Democrats in the House will seriously try to impeach Trump as long as there is no possibility the Senate would convinct him. And unlike a lot of people, I agree that impeachment alone is kind of pointless. If Trump is impeached but not removed from office, he and his supporters would take that as a vindication, and his position would be stronger than ever.

In short, don’t directly attack the beast if you aren’t sure you can kill it with one blow. But if the Democrats take the majority in the House, they can do the one thing that I suspect would destroy Trump — release his tax returns.

Nonstop congressional investigations will attempt to illuminate every dark corner of an administration in which the kleptocracy extends from the Trump family to most Cabinet departments. Those close to Trump, both in his family and in his immediate circle, will fear for their futures, both legally and financially. The GOP and the Trump Organization alike will be on the ropes, and in full panic.

See also Trump Organization Could Face Criminal Charges From Manhattan D.A. And keep in mind that Trump could face more prosaic political issues, such as the fact that the so-called “deal” with North Korea is about to backfire.

Back to Frank Rich:

If there is a shocking upset GOP victory in November, then all bets are off: America is in worse trouble than we already think and possibly in an existential fight for survival.

But the more plausible scenario is that Trump, even if he has to be pushed kicking-and-screaming by Ivanka and the possible jailbirds Donald Jr. and Jared, gets out of Dodge. As with Nixon, his administration is most likely not to end with impeachment but with a self-pitying and self-justifying resignation in which Trump lashes out against both Republicans and Democrats, declares another ersatz “win,” and flees.

And then, of course, most likely President Pence will pardon him for federal charges, but that would leave the possibility of convictions on lots of lovely state and New York City charges. However, when dealing with a personality as unstable and deluded as Trump’s, it’s possible he wouldn ‘t resign but would have to be removed from office and then, forceably, from the White House. Kicking and screaming.

Right now, Republicans in Congress are holding firm in support of Trump. But they held firm in support of Nixon, too, until they didn’t.

But when this White House collapses, it will happen fast. As the Washington reporter Elizabeth Drew, who covered Watergate for The New Yorker, would conclude, “In retrospect, the denouement appeared inevitable, but it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.”

Martin Longman:

The one thing I don’t think is helpful is to continuously talk about how the Republicans in the Senate will never convict Trump even if the House impeaches him with the support of the American people. They will certainly be reluctant to do so for all the reasons I’ve already suggested, but it will really come down to the facts of the case.

If Trump is proven to have actively coordinated with the Russians despite all his denials, and if the people who were responsible for this are willing to attest to what they did, then Mike Pence is going to look like a very attractive option. To be honest, Pence is much better liked and a better ideological fit for congressional Republicans than Trump. The reason they stick with Trump is because their own ineptitude weakened them so much that Trump was able to take over their party, and now they can’t win without his supporters. They’re caught in a vice.

In the end, after they’ve taken their losses despite sticking with Trump, the remaining senators are not going to be eager to go into 2020 with Trump as their champion. Since they don’t like or trust him anyway, if they can’t win with or without him, it’ll be far preferable to lose without him. There is a limit to how much shit they will eat to defend a man like Trump, and if the evidence comes in and it’s strong enough, there will be enough Republican senators who will choose removal over arguing that Trump should remain in office despite having done what he was accused of doing and then lying about it for two years.

I agree with this also. Keep in mind that Trump’s hard-core base is not in love with the Republican establishment.

The typical Trump supporter had complete disdain for all of Trump’s establishmentarian rivals for the nomination, and that contempt extended (and extends) to the Republican leadership in Congress. They have never liked Mitch McConnell and they especially hate Paul Ryan for abandoning Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out. They don’t support Republicans in Washington except in the very limited sense that they rely on them to protect the president and enact his agenda.

On the other hand,  polls show that Trump is costing the Republians big in the suburbs, especially among the college-educated, country club class, and even more especially among college-educated women.

That’s why a blue wave in November is essential, and if it doesn’t materialize, we’re doomed. But if it does, then the denouement will not be far behind.

Update: More acceleration — Trump’s CFO is flipping.

We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet

I want to talk about something Paul Waldman said yesterday — “…  that Trump got within 100 miles of the White House to begin with represents a massive failure of the system.” Yes, the entire system, public and private. And all political parties. Ain’t nobody innocent.

The system has been dysfunctional for a long time. The Obama Administration was like a coat of nice paint covering rotten wood; it was “normal” enough to help us all maintain the fiction that the system still worked, even if the Republican Party was obstructing getting anything done. I say we haven’t hit bottom yet because there are still too many people who think the system is fine and just needs some more paint. And a lot of those people are Democrats.

I’m not saying that both parties are just alike and just as guilty. Republicans have been wallowing in the rot, but Democrats have been entirely too accommodating to it. For the sake of civility, you know.

For example: A couple of days ago I ranted about white-collar crime. Later the same day Matt Yglesias published a post that covered the same points in more detail. And then Eric Levitz wrote,

In 1991 The New Yorker’s Mark Danner wrote the following elegy for the American republic:

Perhaps the most disquieting legacy of Iran-Contra, in which extremely serious political crimes were exposed and then left largely unexorcised, is a kind of pervasive moral lassitude, in which charges that the integrity of the 1980 Presidential election was compromised with the help of the Iranian government evoke an almost bored reaction. It now appears that the charges will be left to linger, unanswered and uninvestigated, because no one with any power sees it to be in his personal political interest to confront them. The dictum that we live in a nation of laws can also be understood ironically-that ours has become a nation only of laws. For laws without the will to enforce them and confront the consequences remain simply words on paper.

Trump’s immediate Republican predecessor reaffirmed Danner’s insight, by overseeing the systematic violation of both domestic and international laws against military torture — while Trump’s immediate Democratic predecessor did so by refusing to bring any of that criminal conspiracy’s masterminds to justice.

This culture of elite impunity has not been confined to the political realm. America’s economic elites avail themselves of its benefits even more routinely. The 2008 financial crisis revealed myriad acts of financial and foreclosure fraud — almost none of which was criminally prosecuted. Barack Obama’s Justice Department explicitly endorsed the principle that some individuals and institutions are simply too economically powerful to be bound by criminal law, when it decided not to prosecute HSBC for laundering hundreds of millions in drug money.

Meanwhile, America’s garden-variety plutocrats escape punishment for white-collar crimes on a daily basis, and pay only a small fraction of the taxes that they owe Uncle Sam. Our government has responded to this well-known phenomenon by spending orders of magnitude more on punishing misdemeanor immigration offenses than policing white-collar felonies, and making international cooperation on combating tax havens one of its lowest diplomatic priorities (far below, say, making life-saving pharmaceuticals more expensive for people in the developed world).

Few American voters fully grasp the extent of the rot, or understand how it happened, but they feel it instinctively. They know the system doesn’t work for them. They just don’t understand why, and neither party explains it, because both parties — to differing degrees — are in on it. So it was that the blatantly dishonest and corrupt Donald Trump, who should have been in jail years ago, got away with painting Hillary Clinton as “crooked.” While I do not believe she ever did anything indictable (although it wouldn’t shock me to learn otherwise), voters instinctively knew that Clinton would have protected the system and do nothing to clean it up. Because if you have power, you don’t have to do anything illegal to benefit from the corruption; the system will reward you for protecting it. And, unfortunately, she lacks Donald’s Trump talent for salesmanship. He got away with pitching himself as a reformer because the network television news (never mind Fox News or talk radio) lacked the guts to tell the truth about him. So here we are.

Democrats intend to use corruption as a midterm campaign issue. I question whether that will work for them, especially if the same old establishment faces (Pelosi, Schumer et al.) are delivering that message. And, again, I’m not putting Pelosi and Schumer in the same pot with Duncan Hunter. But they’ve both been in Washington a long time. They may not be in bed with the corruption, but they are certainly on a cordial first-name basis with it. Meanwhile, the urban professional class — the people not left behind by the global economy — continue blindly to defend the Democratic Party establishment and fervently believe that racism alone made Trump president.

That’s why I say we haven’t hit bottom yet.

As far as the Trump Administration goes, I don’t think it’s hit bottom yet, either. But it’s falling faster now.  What went on with Manafort and Cohen on Tuesday was just a start. (FYI, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was just granted federal immunity. )

Trump isn’t going to be impeached and removed from office until the Republican Party wants him gone. If the GOP goes down in flames in the midterms, that could happen. But assuming the Dems at least take back the House, here are some more things they could do. Paul Waldman:

* Use their control of the Ways and Means Committee to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns so that we finally learn what he has been hiding.

*Hold hearings on the ways Trump is personally profiting off the presidency and potentially violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

*Mount a serious, comprehensive investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s cooperation with that attack.

*Investigate accusations of wrongdoing that have been leveled at Cabinet officials such as Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke.

*Demand answers from the administration on the decision-making process and effects of controversial administration policies, such as adding a citizenship question to the census, relaxing rules for power plant emissions, making it easier for private “universities” to scam students, and tearing children from their parents’ arms at the border.

In other words, bleep civility. Bleep reaching across the aisle. They’ve got to be as hard on Trump as the GOP has been on Hillary Clinton and every other Democrat they’ve tried to destroy.

Beyond that, see also Charles Pierce, Elizabeth Warren Just Laid Out an Indictment of Our Political System in All Its Corruption and Sleaze.

Manafort Guilty on Eight Counts; Cohen Implicates Trump

We’re having a clearinghouse on criminal justice today. The Washington Post is reporting that Paul Manafort has been convicted on eight counts and that the judge has declared a mistrial on ten other counts. “Manafort was convicted on five counts of filing false tax returns, one count of not filing a required IRS form, and two bank fraud counts.”

Manafort’s guilty verdict may strengthen Mueller’s hand as he continues to investigate possible conspiracy and seeks an interview with the president; an acquittal could have led to a broader effort by conservatives to shut down the special counsel’s office. …

… When the jurors were brought into the courtroom, Ellis told them only that if they failed to agree on a verdict, the case would be “left open and undecided,” and that there was no reason another 12 jurors could decide the case “better or more exhaustively” than they could.

It’s not clear to me what charges they “split” on, and of course we don’t know yet of Mueller will try Manafort again on those charges, just that he could.  Manafort’s other trial, on allegations about lying to the FBI, money laundering and foreign lobbying, is scheduled to begin September 17.

Earlier today, there were news reports that Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty, yet there were no details of a deal. Now we have some more information. The New York Times:

Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance and other charges. He made the extraordinary admission that he paid a pornographic actress “at the direction of the candidate,” referring to Mr. Trump, to secure her silence about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen told a judge in United States District Court in Manhattan that the payment was “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016.

I’ll come back to that.

Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, bringing to a close a monthslong investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors who examined his personal business dealings and his role in helping to arrange financial deals with women connected to Mr. Trump.

Now, here’s a critical part:

The plea agreement does not call for Mr. Cohen to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, but it does not preclude him from providing information to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

If Mr. Cohen were to substantially assist the special counsel’s investigation, Mr. Mueller could recommend a reduction in his sentence.

In other words, there’s no deal yet. The deal is still being negotiated.

Now, let’s go back to the first part of Cohen’s plea, about paying a pornographic actress at the direction of a candidate. Doesn’t this implicate Trump in direct violation of campaign finance law? Cohen may not have named Trump. But who else was he working for?

Big news day, folks.

Update: Here’s one more:

A judge in Washington, D.C., has thrown out a lawsuit against former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who had been sued by Russian oligarchs claiming he defamed them in his dossier about the Trump campaign’s alleged links with Russia.

This feels like three for three.

Update: 13 legal experts weigh in on the Michael Cohen plea. Can we say “unindicted co-conspirator”? Yes, I believe we can!

#AllCrimesMatter, a Rant on White Collar Crime

Talking Points Memo has a feature up about Paul Manafort’s financial problems that’s pretty good, although I don’t know that it provides any ground-breaking insight. Yeah, we know Manafort was broke and unwilling to live within his newly restricted means. I mostly want to link to one of the comments:

One of the things that the whole sorry, sordid mess that is Trump-swampia is showing is what the true price is for our collective failure to aggressively prosecute white collar money crimes. Preet Bharara was ask on Bill Maher’s Real Time how Trump could have operated as he did in NYC real estate for so long without triggering any serious criminal investigation. His answer of “my bad” should have been “our bad” since the public has not really cared about such crimes. Until we insist that law enforcement and DA’s pursue these types of criminals with the same zeal that we insist that they pursue a convenience store robber we are going to continue to breed a class of crooks that not only believe that they can game the system to their financial advantage but that they are entitled to do so. #AllCrimesMatter {steps down from soap box}

Bernie Madoff paid for this crimes because he ripped off other rich people. Madoff himself said in a prison interview that the banks and hedge funds he dealt with demonstrated “willful blindness” to what he was up to. They had to know, he said. As long as they were making money, it was okay, I guess.

In 2009, Business Insider published a list of high-profile white-collar criminals who were in jail at the time. It strikes me that some of them, like the dudes who went down with Enron, probably only went down because they failed. Their schemes didn’t pay off fast enough, and it all came crashing down. But before that, especially as they became useful to the political class, they could get away with anything. Until they couldn’t keep up the facade any more, that is.

It’s kind of a sad thing to read this article from 2002 on the lessons of Enron — “Houston, We Have Problem.” It’s sad because the lessons clearly were not learned.

See also “Why Only One Top Banker Went to Jail for the Financial Crisis” from the April 30, 2014 New York Times.

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed Wall Street traders, bank executives, defense lawyers and dozens of current and former prosecutors to understand why the largest man-made economic catastrophe since the Depression resulted in the jailing of a single investment banker — one who happened to be several rungs from the corporate suite at a second-tier financial institution. Many assume that the federal authorities simply lacked the guts to go after powerful Wall Street bankers, but that obscures a far more complicated dynamic. During the past decade, the Justice Department suffered a series of corporate prosecutorial fiascos, which led to critical changes in how it approached white-collar crime. The department began to focus on reaching settlements rather than seeking prison sentences, which over time unintentionally deprived its ranks of the experience needed to win trials against the most formidable law firms. By the time Serageldin committed his crime, Justice Department leadership, as well as prosecutors in integral United States attorney’s offices, were de-emphasizing complicated financial cases — even neglecting clues that suggested that Lehman executives knew more than they were letting on about their bank’s liquidity problem. In the mid-90s, white-collar prosecutions represented an average of 17.6 percent of all federal cases. In the three years ending in 2012, the share was 9.4 percent.

The article points out that the one financial sector professional who did jail time for his role in the crisis, Kareem Serageldin, was more of an enabler than an instigator.

One of the striking things about Trump and his associates is how many of them should have been in jail already.  Trump, certainly. Steve “Foreclosure King” Mnuchin, on principle. Wilbur Ross is dirty as sin. If white-collar crime were taken as seriously as it should be, Trump would never have become president. Instead of going after the real criminals, we scapegoat and punish illegal immigrants. And politicians of both parties have been in on it.

See also, from the Maha Archives:

A Conspiracy So Immense

Save Us from CEOs

I Bet Trump Is Nervous About McGahn

Nancy LeTourneau writes that a White House counsel, which is what Don McGahn is, does not work for the president but for the government. This means there is no attorney-client privilege between Trump and McGahn. She quotes Bob Bauer at Lawfare:

A White House counsel is not in a position to reject or ignore a special prosecutor’s request for information relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. The law on the fundamental point is clear. Precisely as the Times describes McGahn’s understanding of his role, the White House counsel is a government employee, not personal counsel to the president. Courts presented with the question have ruled that, in a criminal investigation, the attorney-client privilege does not shield a White House counsel from providing his or her evidence. Neither is executive privilege a safe harbor if the government can demonstrate need for the information and its unavailability from other sources.


Since Trump believes that the FBI and the Attorney General are there to protect his interests rather than serve the cause of justice, it should come as no surprise that he would assume the same thing about the White House counsel’s office. McGahn’s job, however, is to defend the presidency, not the president. If Trump had tried to stop him from talking to the special prosecutor, Mueller could have compelled him to do so.

In this morning’s tweetstorm, Trump claimed he had given his approval to McGahn to testify and accused Bob Mueller of trying to interfere with the midterm elections.

There are differing opinions being offered in the nation’s op ed pages about whether McGahn would try to protect Trump or not, but he testified for 30 hours. That’s an awfully long time to testify and not say something.  See also David Graham, Are Trump’s Lawyers an Asset or a Liability? and Paul Waldman, The most intense and dangerous period of the Trump presidency is about to begin.

Elsewhere: The more information that comes out about Bret Kavanaugh, the scummier he looks. See Josh Marshall, Bret Kavanaugh Is A First Rate Hypocrite and Political Judge and Brett Kavanaugh, the man who created the super PAC.