The Shit Hits the Fan Edition
APPROVAL ALERT AT PRESS TIME:
Gallup Poll: 42% — up from 39% last week
Rasmussen Poll: 46% — down from 48% last week
Welcome to Trumplandia, a place where with a bit of wit and snark, we keep the world caught up on all of the tasty Nuggets-O-Trump you may have heard about but were too busy to care. Because most of this minutia occurs just below the massive headlines about the POTUS, it’s in a land of its own. Here, an infusion of social media, video clips and print media meld with our outdated political views to make more delicious “Fake News” about our Commander-in-Chief.
So just like the president, we start it all with a little tweet like this:
The Splatter Effect
The week of our Trump — Aug. 18, 2018: Where last week it appeared President Donald J. Trump was balancing the weight of the world on his narrow shoulders, matters shifted this week and the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan.
The result was a mess of damning headlines for the president that included the conviction of a former campaign chair, a guilty plea by his former personal attorney, and the reported cooperation of the White House counsel as well as two close personal associates from within the Trump inner circle.
However, in a crappy week marked with betrayals from friends and former associates, it was the flipping of former Trump fixer and attorney Michael Cohen that set off a stink-fest that had the man with the golden commode all jammed up by federal investigations out of New York’s southern district.
Cohen stated that a “candidate for federal office” directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Trump. Cohen acknowledged the payments were illegal and constituted campaign violations, but those crimes were committed at the behest of the president.
The disclosure seemed to make the president all uptight and made him revert to his New York roots by talking like some crime boss discussing how much he disliked “flipping” and snitches.
“Flipping” became the word of the week, beginning with White House Counsel Don McGahn’s cooperation and alleged leaking of that cooperation to the media late last week. The failing New York Times reported on Aug. 18 that McGahn had answered about 30 hours worth of questions in the probe for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Regardless of how cooperative he was, Trump weighed into the testimony given by McGahn, passive aggressively assuring the attorney that he knew he was nothing like his predecessor, John Dean, who testified against Richard Nixon to galvanize that president’s role in the 1972 Watergate scandal.
McGahn was instead said to have been a defender of the Trump administration’s “open book legal strategy,” which was touted by former Trump attorney John Dowd.
Things got murkier the next day when former New York Mayor and current Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani did the Sunday morning news show circuit on Aug. 19 and got all existential.
Proclaiming that “truth is not truth,” Rudy stopped at NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and explained that he and his team had been setting the ground rules for when and under what circumstances our liar-in-chief would sit down with Mueller and answers questions about the ongoing Russia probe.
Rudy said he was worried that Donnie would walk himself into a perjury trap by telling his special version of the truth that most of us would classify as a lie. Only to Rudy, lies are not lies when they come from the sneering lips of Trump. Instead, the truth — which is not coming from his lips — could be construed as “somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”
The bug-eyed and stammering Rudy went on to explain to host Chuck Todd how there were versions of the truth that may be seen as a lie and lead Trump into perjury, despite him telling the truth.
As America scratched its collective head and prepared for the new week, most of us prepared for the verdict from a three week trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, Manafort was found guilty on eight of 18 counts of financial crimes that included five tax fraud charges, for subscribing to false U.S. individual income tax returns for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
He was also convicted of one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts in 2012 and two counts of bank fraud for $3.4 million Citizens Bank and $1 million from the Bank of California. Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on the remaining 10 counts. Manafort faces a maximum of 80 years in prison.
Almost simultaneously, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen stated a candidate for federal office directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Trump.
Cohen acknowledged the illegal payments while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges in U.S. District court in Manhattan. The former Trump confidante also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion and a single count of bank fraud.
Cohen has been under investigation since his office was raided in April for his connection to engineering hush money agreements with adult film star Stormy Daniels (a.k.a. Stephanie Clifford) and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.
The two women, who alleged they had affairs with Trump in 2006, were paid a total of $280,000 just prior to the 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for silence on their alleged trysts. Cohen was said to have paid at least one of the women from a home equity line set up specifically to keep the information about the affair quiet.
Trump has vehemently denied the affairs, but, depending on the week, either ordered the payments, did not know about the payments, reimbursed Cohen for the payments by wire transfer or through a retainer agreement.
During court proceedings this week Cohen stated:
“I participated in this conduct for the principal purpose of influencing an election.”
Giuliani said the admission “reflects a pattern of lies and dishonesty” by the former “fixer” over a long period of time.
On Aug 23, it was reported that National Enquirer publisher and Trump pal David Pecker was granted immunity in the federal probe involving Cohen, largely for his role in the payoff to McDougal for her story that was slated to appear in the tabloid but was quashed as part of an ongoing “catch-and-kill” policy established to hide negative news stories.
Yesterday, longtime Trump family accountant Allen Weisselberg jumped on the immunity train for the Manhattan District Attorney, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Weisselberg, who was first an accountant for Trump’s dad, real estate magnate Fred Trump, was named as trustee at the Trump Organization, alongside Eric and Donald Jr., just days before Donnie Dimwit was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Weisselberg allegedly arranged for Cohen to be paid a $35,000 monthly retainer for services to the president following his payment of $130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 catch and kill set up with the Enquirer.
The former Trump CFO to his hotels and casinos, as well as the Donald J. Trump Foundation reportedly was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury last month as it related to the New York Southern District U.S. Attorney investigation into Cohen.
During a Aug. 23 Fox News interview with Ainsley Earhardt, Trump questioned those who snitch against him and pondered the possibility of his impeachment. When asked if he thought the upcoming midterm elections could lead to his ouster, Trump glibly said he’d done such a “good job” he was not sure why he would be impeached.
Please Baby, Please
In what is becoming his signature move, Trump began his schmooze-fest with Paul Manafort immediately following Manafort’s conviction in U.S. District court in Virginia.
Very similar to the tweets sent out after Cohen’s office was raided in April, Donnie began kissing up to the man he once said was only a short-term employee of his campaign with the type of fervor that has many wondering if Trump plans to pardon the GOP lobbyist.
The Trump method appears to revolve around heaping praise on a potential witnesses for the prosecution in the hopes that the kind words will prevent those seeking immunity from forging a deal and therefore turning on him. The president employed these tactics with both Cohen and McGahn, before they were seen to be cooperating.
In various tweets on the morning of Aug. 19, the president references the Russia investigation as a “rigged witch hunt,” federal prosecutors working with Mueller as members of a gang of Democrats, and Mueller as “conflicted” or “disgraced and discredited.”
However, two days later after he learned of Manafort’s fate, Trump said he felt badly for a man who was convicted on 8 counts of tax evasion and praised him for not breaking like Cohen or “making up stories.” He called Manafort a brave man.
Trump likened the special counsel investigation to the hearings held by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s as he searched for domestic spies and Communists. Trump said the Russia investigation has ruined lives over nothing.
At press time, Manafort had not struck a deal to cooperate with federal authorities who charged him as part of the Russian investigation into campaign interference.
If things couldn’t get worse, frustration over the “witch hunt” renewed the president’s ongoing war with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, continued to catch hell for recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation. As more people tied to the president cut deals with federal prosecutors, a growingly frustrated Trump again turned his wrath on Sessions, who he said never took proper control of the Department of Justice.
Repeating his mantra for the former Alabama senator, “if he knew he was going to recuse himself, why didn’t he say something?” he asked rhetorically. “I would have picked someone else.”
Trump has blamed Sessions for the investigation gaining traction since it began following his firing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The president later allegedly fired former FBI Director James Comey for his lack of due diligence in an investigation of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sessions, who as attorney general heads the Department of Justice, oversaw the investigation into Flynn, Russia, and interference in the 2016 election once the head of the FBI was removed.
Clueless Trump always seems to overlook the role his firing of Comey played in setting the entire matter in motion. Sessions recusal came after he disclosed he had a meeting with Russian diplomats and therefore could present a conflict of interest in the DOJ-led investigation.
The president charged that if Sessions had taken control of the DOJ, he would not have allowed the “Witch Hunt” to take place and therefore would not be a part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign.
Mueller was appointed to take over the investigation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe following Sessions’ recusal.
Trumpian Twitter threats against Session were met with challenges a year ago from his former colleagues in the Senate, but this week that all changed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who threatened hellfire if Trump replaced Sessions, said this week he expected a change of attorney general following the November midterm elections.
The new stance against Sessions has emboldened him to push back against the threats from the Oval Office.
On Aug. 23, Sessions reminded Trump that he will not allow the DOJ to be swayed by politics:
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.”
Many have theorized that firing Sessions could open the door to Trump ultimately gaining control of the Mueller investigation by replacing the former senator with someone who would fire Mueller and end the investigation that Trump loathes. Some believe such a move would be obstruction of justice and cause a constitutional crisis.