If Jeff Sessions is planning on buying new drapes for the attorney general’s office, he’d better hustle up, because the clock appears to be ticking rapidly down to zero. Donald Trump, according to Tuesday’s Washington Post, “has privately revived the idea of firing him in conversations with his aides and personal lawyers this month.” This time, it sounds like he means it.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Trump manages to overcome his towering personal cowardice and actually pulls the trigger on a decision to fire Sessions. Replacing the attorney general would require Senate confirmation, unless Trump taps a department head who already underwent Senate approval, a move made possible by the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998.
This would be messy, as the law isn’t clear on whether it applies to the replacement of officials who have been fired, but is entirely possible. Trump’s final option to replace Sessions without Senate approval would be a temporary recess appointment, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats have made it clear they will hold pro forma sessions during any recess to thwart this particular action.
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Despite all that, and the fact that firing Sessions for Russia-investigation reasons (“He recused himself!”) would be prima facie evidence of obstruction, say Trump actually does it, and everything after goes his way: Sessions’ replacement takes over the Russia investigation and dumps Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has thus far refused to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller … and Rosenstein’s replacement fires Mueller, effectively ending the investigation … and Sessions’ replacement ultimately refuses to make the fruits of the Mueller investigation public.
String all these stinky sausage links together just so and Donald Trump is off the hook, right?
Neither are his friends, and neither are his kids. Their legal woes have gone far beyond the Russian collusion investigation but may very well lead right back to it when all is said and done.
The Trump Organization is the repository for all Trump revenues related to real estate dealings, and as the world already knows, real estate transactions are the best and easiest way to clean dirty money. The theory almost certainly being pursued by Mueller is that any 2016 election collusion was not the beginning of Trump’s dealings with Russia but rather the end product of a long financial relationship that began when no one else would loan money to a windbag casino mogul who had already gone bankrupt five times. Yet even if the collusion investigation is derailed or comes up dead empty, the president’s legal troubles stemming from the Trump Organization will continue unabated.
“There are now multiple investigations of the Trump Organization,” reports Adam Davidson in The New Yorker, “being conducted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York Attorney General, The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Southern District of New York, and — quite likely — other jurisdictions. President Trump is unable to stop most of these investigations.”
The Trump Foundation is another matter altogether. If the allegations are true, Donald Trump and his family used the foundation, which was intended to serve charitable organizations, as their own personal checking account. According to the accusations, money from the foundation was spent to make problems at and complaints against various Trump properties go away. Worse, foundation money was used to purchase personal perks like the notorious $10,000 portrait of Trump himself.
“The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit,” reported The New York Times, “taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.”
Taken as a whole, that’s one hell of a list of legal problems, and not just for Papa Don. The kids are not alright; Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump are up to their eyeballs in serious Trump Foundation dealings. The brothers are both board members, as was Ivanka until she stepped down after her father’s election. The civil lawsuit undertaken by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is but the tip of the legal iceberg.
“[Underwood] forwards all this evidence that she gathered to the IRS for them to investigate as a potential criminal tax matter,” explained Rachel Maddow last week. “She forwards it to the Federal Election Commission, for them to investigate as a potential set of criminal campaign finance violations. She CCs it to the Public Integrity Division at the US Justice Department. And within New York state, the state tax department starts investigating that evidence as well — as laid out by Barbara Underwood to see if, in addition to the civil lawsuit, there should be a state criminal referral against the Trump Foundation, and President Trump personally, and each of his three eldest children personally.”
It is not too farfetched to wonder if, or perhaps when, one of these upstanding citizens will throw the rest of the family to the wolves to save themselves. They have plenty of people to emulate in this regard. The Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation, and by proxy the Trump family itself, are all on the rocks because of fully knowledgeable insiders who are getting squeezed until they squeak.
It started last week with the twin-bill detonations of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal attorney and “fixer,” voluntarily cut a deal with the Southern District of New York to tell what he knows about illegal hush money payoffs to two women Trump had affairs with — adult actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen MacDougal — using Trump Organization money.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager and international lobbyist, has not talked yet, but with a conviction already around his neck, a second trial only weeks away and a presidential pardon perhaps a political impossibility, Mr. Manafort has a decision to make … if he hasn’t made it already. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Manafort sought to cut a deal with Mueller before the second trial begins, but the talks broke down. As the September 17 trial date approaches, Manafort may very well try again.
After that came the announced cooperation of David Pecker, CEO of American Media Inc., head of the National Enquirer and close friend of Donald Trump. Pecker was the conduit through which Trump paid $150,000 to quash the story of his affair with Karen McDougal. On the surface, the Pecker deal is about getting the goods on Michael Cohen, but as Cohen himself has indicated (and his recorded conversations prove), all roads lead to Trump.
Even without the Russia-related matters, this is a stupendously large and convoluted legal nut to crack. How can any investigators hope to fully understand it all, much less prosecute it?
Answer: Flip the accountant. His name is Allen Weisselberg, and he knows everything.
“Weisselberg is chief financial officer for the Trump Organization,” report Erin Kelly and Fredreka Schouten of USA Today, “which is the Trump family real estate and branding empire. As the longtime financial gatekeeper, Weisselberg likely knows a great deal about the company’s payments to Cohen. Weisselberg, who also serves as one of two trustees of the trust that controls Trump’s assets, was granted immunity to provide information about Cohen, according to the Wall Street Journal.”
Compelling the infamously reticent Weisselberg to speak on the record about the inner workings of Trump World is, in short, the keys to the kingdom. Even if his information is currently limited to Cohen’s payoffs to MacDougal and Daniels, that information could establish bedrock proof of Trump’s felony complicity in campaign finance violations and election interference.
“It is safe to say that the entire world of Trump watchers — those journalists, political folks, and advocates who carefully monitor every bit of Trump news — went bonkers,” continued Davidson of The New Yorker. “Weisselberg is the man to whom those people most want to speak.”
Donald Trump can fire Jeff Sessions, re-hire him and fire him all over again. It won’t change a thing for him, or for his children, if they are as complicit as they appear to be. The New York State Attorney General, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Federal Election Commission, the Public Integrity Division at the US Justice Department, plus all the civil suits grinding away out there, are not going away.