Donald Trump Is Under the Bus

Just after noon on Wednesday, the personal lawyer to the president of the United States was sentenced in federal court to 36 months in prison.

Think about that.

“Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s long-time consigliere and Man Who Knows All Secrets had his world turned inside out like a laundered sock on Monday morning,” I wrote on April 11 of this year, “when the FBI basically raided every place he’s ever spent more than five minutes. Cohen’s home, office and hotel all got the treatment courtesy of the office of the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, operating off a tip from special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team.”

Eight months and a day later, here we are.

The day of reckoning finally arrived for Donald Trump’s long-time attorney, fixer and bagman. Cohen, who once walked the streets of New York with the strut of a man who thought he could knock over buildings, finally had the building fall on him. Everyone whose arm Cohen ever twisted on behalf of Trump likely watched the network coverage of his sentencing as if it were the last 10 seconds of the Super Bowl and their team was on top.

Today’s ruling will go on the books as a sentencing for multiple crimes, including lying to Congress about Trump’s dealings in Moscow and paying hush money to two women during the presidential campaign. On top of the prison time, Cohen was ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution. Cohen’s legal team had asked the judge for no jail time given his cooperation, but the prosecutors took the position that “even powerful and privileged individuals cannot violate these laws with impunity.” That view carried the day.

“While Mr. Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors,” said US District Judge William H. Pauley III, “that does not wipe the slate clean. Mr. Cohen selected the information he disclosed to the government. This court cannot agree with the defendant’s assertion that no jail time is warranted. In fact, this court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”

Cohen wept as the sentence was read, and then, with solemn piety and grim solicitude, threw his former client under the crosstown bus. “Time and time again,” he told the judge, “I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds. I stand before your honor humbly and painfully aware that we are here today for one reason, because of my actions that I pled guilty to. I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to, the personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America.”

“At the appropriate time,” Cohen attorney Lanny Davis told CBS News, “after Mr. Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies. Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts.”

And so much for “Individual 1.”

The ultimate impact of Wednesday’s courtroom drama is anyone’s guess. Prosecutors were clear on the fact that Cohen did not reveal absolutely everything he knows, and whatever he does know is heavy enough to make 36 months in prison a better alternative for him than full disclosure. Suspicious minds like mine are forced to wonder if there might be a bullet out there somewhere – Russian mob perhaps, or old school New York Mafia – with his name on it if he spills too much, but that line of thought veers almost too close to the realm of fantasy to truly entertain… or does it? The best spelunkers in the world couldn’t find the bottom of this barrel, and Mueller’s report is still in the offing.

Speaking of the bottom of the barrel, one of the most famous purveyors of actual fake news has also rolled on the president. American Media Inc. (AMI), parent company of the National Enquirer, made public on Wednesday a deal they cut with the Southern District of New York back in September. As part of the deal, AMI admits to paying $150,000 in hush money to former model Karen McDougal in order to kill her story about an affair with Trump.

Working directly with Cohen at the behest of Trump, AMI buried McDougal’s story specifically to “prevent it from influencing the election.” According to The Washington Post, “The deal signaled the unraveling of the deep relationship Trump and AMI chief executive David Pecker had forged over decades. The deal also made clear that Pecker, whose tabloid strongly supported Trump’s candidacy, has turned on the president.”

As for President Tantrum, the Thunderdome finally erupted on Thursday morning:

    I was nearly convinced these were written by some beleaguered White House staffer who got dragooned into the unenviable task of channeling Trump into print, until I got to that last line, which is pure Donald: “As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!” No one, but no one, has the first “smocking” clue what that means. Cohen is going to jail to embarrass Trump? The bats in the Trumpian belfry may have finally reached peak bat. No mention, of course, of AMI, Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. That would spoil the fiction.

    Manafort is set to be sentenced on March 5, and Flynn will be seeing the judge this coming Tuesday. Cohen has been ordered to surrender for incarceration on March 6, one day after Manafort is sentenced. The last lingering shoe to drop is the final release of the full Mueller report. Will he wait until Manafort is sentenced before unveiling it?

    That’s a tall gamble; in political terms, March is a thousand years from now. Once the new Congress is seated, there is likely to be a race in the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, in the hope that Barr will save Trump’s hide the way he saved George H.W. Bush’s back in 1992 and trash the whole investigation. Perhaps Mueller is simply waiting until after the first week of January, when he will have a new army of House allies with subpoena power to back him up.

    The wild days are getting wilder, to be sure. On top of everything else, Trump stapled personal responsibility for any looming government shutdown to himself on live television with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer seated not two feet away. The White House is about to have no chief of staff – the first choice wisely turned them down, Trump wants the second choice to keep being awful in the House and no third choice apparently exists – which means there is no traffic cop for an administration that is already careening toward calamity.

    Hats over the windmill, I say. The avalanche has begun.