After such a wild and wooly week in Washington, it behooves me to ask an all-important yet oft-ignored question: Why would a man run for president when the skeletons in his closet are so numerous they have their own union? It is hardly a secret that Donald J. Trump is the premier grifter of the late 20th and early 21st century, the moral inheritor of Charles Ponzi, Marc Drier and Bernie Madoff. In the words of columnist Paul Madoff:
He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America. He ran scams like Trump University to con struggling people out of their money. He lent his name to pyramid schemes. He bankrupted casinos and still somehow made millions while others were left holding the bag. He refused to pay vendors. He exploited foreign workers. He used illegal labor. He discriminated against African-American renters. He violated antitrust laws. He did business with the mob and with Eastern European kleptocrats. His properties became the go-to vehicle for Russian oligarchs and mobsters to launder their money.
Add to all that the fact that almost none of this is a secret if you ask the right people in Manhattan, Moscow or Atlantic City, and what you wind up with is a guy who really should have stayed out of politics.
Not just for his own good, but for the good of all the people who want no part of the bright light being shined on all things Trump. I find it amazing that some guys with broken noses and Brooklyn accents didn’t sit him down two years ago to have a come-to-Jesus chat about subpoenas, shady real estate transactions and the wonders of the RICO Act.
Maybe something just like that did happen, but it was too late. Barack Obama, whose citizenship Trump had questioned, utterly humiliated him at the 2011 Correspondent’s Dinner in front of a media/power crowd whose affections he had been feverishly craving since the Reagan era. These were the same kind of people who shunned Trump at parties back in New York, and they laughed at him that night, right in his face.
After that, Trump’s grifter friends helped him rub his narcissistic woes to a fine sheen and jumped on for the ride to the White House, seeking plunder the way pirates have since ships first sailed the high seas. The ultimate flaw of grifters is baked into their most essential nature: To do what they do, they must be able to pretend the heat isn’t right around the corner, especially when it is.
Good grifters require a level of self-confidence that staggers belief. Raise, and then raise again. Push the chips to the center of the table and smile over the aces you’re not holding. It’s an old story, and it’s amazing how often it still works. Not in the White House, though, right? Not under all that light, not even with a bought Congress, could anyone realistically believe so many open secrets could be kept under wraps by a walking thumb like Michael Cohen.
Trump believed it, and here we are. Money laundering, Russian election tampering, gleeful Trump campaign cooperation, the serial ham-fisted efforts by the Trump Syndicate to disrupt and distract Robert Mueller’s investigation, 19 people and 3 companies charged with various crimes so far, with 5 guilty pleas and agreements to cooperate already in hand, and it’s only been a year. Ken Starr took more than twice that long chasing not nearly as much.
This thing, on the other hand, is getting almost too big to see. It has so many moving parts, a whole slew of which decided to move at the same time this past week. “Days like Wednesday,” wrote Heather Digby Parton, “are filled with various emerging details of different aspects of the Trump scandals that are potentially important — and in any other administration would cause bipartisan garment rending and calls for commissions, committee investigations and special counsels — but come out of left field and don’t really clarify anything.”
Emerging from the mayhem was a report that could precipitate all-out war between the White House and the Department of Justice along with the intelligence agencies. Michael Cohen’s secret bank records were allegedly leaked by a government employee. With House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes serving as wingman, Trump is agitating for the release of a DoJ strategy memo regarding the Mueller investigation, along with the name of the alleged leaker. They believe there is enough dynamite contained therein to end the special counsel’s investigation altogether.
Trump, as is his way, approached the situation with his usual measured grace. “Wow,” he tweeted, “word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.’ If so, this is bigger than Watergate!” Trump attorney and human banana-peel gag Rudy Giuliani took to the airwaves to press Trump’s case that the FBI is riddled with Obama/Clinton traitors out to get the White House at all costs.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee cut Trump and Nunes down with a single bi-partisan joint statement: “Our staff concluded that the (intelligence community’s) conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
At about the same time, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of documents related to their own Russia investigation, including transcripts of testimony by Donald Trump Jr. regarding the infamous “Trump Tower Meeting” with Kremlin-linked Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and others. Junior’s testimony included more than 50 “I don’t know” answers, putting him in the same league as Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra memory loss before Congress.
The worst part for Trump and his friends? All this, all the vastness of this is still only the tip of Mueller’s iceberg. He and his staff know far more than they’re telling and far, far more than they’re leaking, and I would be shocked if that fact alone isn’t keeping Donald Trump up nights. I’d love to see his 3:00am phone logs: “Hannity, am I awesome? Thanks!” Click, beeps. “Rudy, Sean says I’m awesome. Is he right? Thanks!” Lather, rinse, repeat.
The White House is frightened, with cause. This unprecedented menacing of the Justice Department, the demeaning of the FBI, is all they have left to them: Attack the institutions that have the power to investigate and charge administration officials, throw enough logs in the road to disrupt the process, make the populace so sick of hearing about it that they’ll welcome an abrupt end to the whole thing.
That’s their bet, their very last one. If these slash-and-burn tactics work, the country will fall ass-backwards into outright fascism not because Trump is actually a fascist in his heart, but because he doesn’t want to get caught. Authoritarian regimes don’t answer subpoenas.
I just have to believe a moment has come somewhere in all this, somewhere deep down in the dark teatime of Trump’s shriveled faux-Machiavellian soul, when he has asked himself, in all honesty for once, what the Hell he was thinking when he decided to run for president. No one cared about his tax returns before the campaign, his lawyers weren’t coughing up file cabinets filled with all the dirty deeds done dirt cheap over the years, and it didn’t cost people 500 grand in legal fees to be his friend.
There’s an answer for that, too. A one-sentence letter and a quick helicopter ride, and Trump is back on the golf course … or maybe not. The crypt doors have been cracked, and the bodies will not lie still. Even if he resigned tomorrow, the law is going to have its way with him, unless he destroys the rule of law to save himself. However it all shakes out, Donald Trump should have stayed home. I’m guessing no one knows that better than him.