We have been dealing with the ongoing reality of President Donald Trump for 789 days. Before the American carnage of that fateful January day when he turned the oath of office into a slur, we had to deal with Candidate Trump for two grinding years, TV Star Trump since 1988 and Grifter Trump since all the way back to 1971, the year of my birth. Talk about being born under a bad sign.
Over the span of that half-century, the public at large has gotten to know Trump’s moods and temperament with an intimacy that is rare for most public figures. Whether he was firing people on The Apprentice or cheating on his wife on the front page of the New York City tabloids, the word “subtle” has never shared the same postal code as the brutish, base, benighted bunko artist currently polluting the White House.
Without doubt, a callus has formed over most people’s Trump receptors since he came down that escalator in June of 2015, a fact which is both positive and negative. It is positive because it means folks have begun tuning out his frantic nonsense for the sake of their own emotional equilibrium, but negative because that same nonsense is becoming normalized in the public sphere. “Oh, that’s just Trump being Trump” is an ever-growing sentiment that may come to doom us all.
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That callus is what makes Trump’s most recent free-swinging exercise in focused bedlam genuinely astonishing. In the span of six days, the man somehow managed to lower his personal bar even further, despite the fact that his bar was already so far down an Etruscan shrew could step over it without brushing its belly fur. “Beneath the bottom of the barrel” is becoming an expression without meaning. This house has no floor, and for the last few days, that callus has been a thoroughly imperfect prophylactic against the onslaught.
It started after Trump responded to the Senate vote against his emergency declaration on Thursday by threatening the political left with violence by cops, soldiers and bikers, and continued through Tuesday with a blitzkrieg of vengeful grievances that ranged from the petty to the downright peculiar. Of course, Trump’s chosen platform for the majority of his klaxon whine festival was Twitter, which I am verging on putting in the same “Things I Wish Never Existed” category as shingles, unrepentant foot odor and Mitch McConnell.
Trump spent those days chewing on the bones of John McCain like a terrier with a case of the bends, lambasted his friends at Fox News right along with the rest of the media, attacked Facebook and Twitter for having it in for him, jumped up and down on the husband of senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, raked General Motors over the coals for exposing the ongoing fraud of his “robust” economy, accused Democrats of trying to steal an election (The last one? The next one? Help?), derided Joe Biden’s intelligence even as his own academic transcripts molder in a landfill somewhere, threatened to sic the FCC on “Saturday Night Live” over an episode that aired before last Christmas, sprayed indiscriminate venom at France, China and Google, and even complained that he wasn’t getting any credit for donating his salary to charity, a claim I believe about as much as I believe in the Tooth Fairy or the existence of integrity in the GOP. Some dogs just won’t hunt.
Why? Was it the Senate vote that set him off? Did someone screw up his 3:00 am cheeseburger-in-bed order? Did the spray tanner in the Situation Room malfunction? Dear God, is he out of Starbursts?
I’m hazarding a guess that Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) may have played a role in Trump’s Hindenburgian self-immolation. The media bees have been buzzing for two weeks over the suggestion that Mueller may be wrapping things up, but that premise took a torpedo below the waterline when his office asked a federal judge for a deadline extension because they are swimming in work. “They are not done,” Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, told CNN.
Freshly unsealed court documents detail the vast scope of the ongoing investigations by Mueller and the SDNY, including the fact that Mueller was investigating Trump’s former attorney/bagman Michael Cohen for almost a year before the FBI kicked down his doors. “The documents show that Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, was a target of Mueller almost immediately after the special counsel was appointed in May 2017,” reports CNN, “and how extensively Mueller tracked computer data of those close to then-candidate Trump in the early days of his presidency.”
The subjects of the warrants issued by Mueller against Cohen range from money laundering to misleading banks to breaking foreign lobbying laws. Those warrants also refer “certain aspects” of the Cohen investigation to the SDNY, which adds an extra-spicy layer of intriguing possibilities to the scenario. According to CNN, “The Manhattan US Attorney’s Office and FBI ‘are investigating a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws by Michael Cohen, a lawyer who holds himself out as the personal attorney for President Donald J. Trump.’”
Interestinger and interestinger. Is the “criminal violation of the campaign finance laws” noted in the heavily redacted documents a reference to the crimes Cohen committed on Trump’s behalf which he has already been sentenced for? Or are we on to a whole new abrogation of the law, one that the cooperating Cohen has not yet been charged with? If indeed the SDNY is pursuing a separate crime, was it also done on Trump’s behalf and with his blessing?
Trump has as much reason to fear the SDNY as he does the Mueller investigation, if not more. “Unlike the special counsel’s office, the Southern District does not have any kind of circumscribed mandate,” Preet Bharara told Time. “They are not limited to issues related to collusion or obstruction or interference with the election of 2016. They can look at everything. And that includes bank fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, you name it.” The same, as it turns out, goes for all the investigations underway in the House of Representatives.
I would sooner try to breathe underwater than trust the integrity of Senate Republicans, but all matter in the universe has a breaking point, even them. If Trump goes Full Archie Cox and tries to fire everyone before the hammer comes down, it will be wild times in the nation’s capital. He could possibly get away with having his new attorney general fire Robert Mueller, because the politics surrounding that investigation are toxic enough to give McConnell & Co. the fig leaf they’ll need to justify a refusal to act.
If Trump tries to clean house at the SDNY, which is a federal office under the purview of the Justice Department, he may as well write, “I AM OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE,” in mile-long letters across the sky. I am just enough of a sucker to believe that, in such an event, there is an actual chance those feckless brigands in the Senate — 22 of whom are facing re-election next year, including Mitch — may finally trip over that low bar and fall into actual action against this renegade president. There will be hell to pay if they don’t.