|EVAN VUCCI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
(This post has been updated to include the Patten guilty plea on August 31.)
Given Donald Trump's long career as a scam artist and all-around crook, there was no chance that he, his family and associates in his orbit would escape legal jeopardy once the criminal justice system got its teeth into them, although that has seemed like so much wishful thinking over the nearly two years since he stole the 2016 presidential election. But lost in the rush of Terrible Tuesday events and decision of some of his associates to cooperate with prosecutors is the fact that there are now seven (count 'em) law enforcement entities pursuing various investigations.
"Everyone and everything he touches rots," says Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of three Republican presidents.
"The myth of Trump is now unraveling," adds Barbara Res, a Trump Organization executive from 1978 to 1996. "He's becoming more obvious, and people are starting to know what he's like and what he's doing."
What Trump is like is a pariah, even as the many Republicans for whom rank hypocrisy is a badge of honor and integrity is passé still embrace him despite his acknowledged criminality. Disinvited from Barbara Bush's funeral, the recent royal wedding of Harry and Meghan and Kennedy Center Honors, Trump's president non grata status, as the WaPo puts it, will be on full display in the coming days as Senator John McCain is eulogized and memorialized by former presidents and world leaders as a principled war hero and Trump is left to lower and raise and lower the White House flag as he sulks on the sidelines.
The fact of the matter is, Trump already would have been charged with multiple crimes were he not president, which theoretically shields him from indictment if not impeachment. Yes, seven long arms of the law in all are closing in, and it's a beautiful thing even if at this point Trump is "only" an unindicted co-conspiritor in a single case -- that of Michael Cohen.
Trump's former lawyer and fixer, in entering guilty pleas on August 21 to campaign finance law violations, among other charges, compellingly and explicitly made the case that hush money payments were made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal for the purpose of shielding Trump's candidacy from a sex scandal. There is no question that candidate Trump broke the law.
Evidence that candidate Trump colluded with Russia to aid his campaign is strong but still circumstantial, although the president should be extremely concerned about what the parade of cooperating witnesses, who now include Allen Weisselberg, longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, are telling prosecutors, as well as signs that the special counsel is closing in on longtime Trump confidante and dirty trickster Roger Stone, whose repeated contacts with the "Guccifer 2.0" Russian hacking group and WikiLeaks are a matter of record.
Meanwhile, there will be three publicity grabbing events in September -- the sentencings of short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign coffee boy George Papadopoulos, both of whom are cooperating to various degrees, and Paul Manafort's second trial. (Manafort unsuccessfully tried to reach a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid that second trial, although Trump could pardon his sorry self).
Weisselberg not only was the Fifth Avenue suit who signed off on Trump Organization reimbursements to Cohen for the hush payments, but he is intimately knowledgeable about Trump's deeply secretive finances as well as his failed efforts to build a hotel in Moscow and other contacts with Russians prior to the 2016 campaign.
"Cohen knows where the bodies are buried," opined one pundit, "But it was Weisselberg who buried them."
All of this and much more is being investigated by these entities:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller: Maximum Bob has bagged 32 indictments and the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Manafort, with that second Manafort trial and more Russia scandal-related indictments to come.
U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York: Mueller handed off the Cohen prosecution to SDNY because it was outside the scope of his inquiry, and it was these prosecutors who flipped Weisselberg.
U.S. Attorney, Washington, D.C.: Another Mueller hand-off involving a guilty plea by Republican lobbyist W. Samuel Patten to failing to register as a foreign agent. He admits illegally steering $50,000 to Trump's inauguration.
Public Integrity Section, Justice Department: Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy is being investigated for trying to sell access to Trump to several foreign interests. Cohen set up a hush payment for Broidy, as well.
Counterintelligence Division, Justice Department: Mariia Butina, Russian intelligence operative and NRA darling, is moldering in a lockup a few blocks from the White House as the result of yet another Mueller handoff.
Attorney General, State of New York: AG Barbara Underwood has shut down and is suing the Trump Foundation, Trump's personal piggy bank. Trump will not be able to pardon anyone convicted as a result of state actions.
District Attorney, Manhattan: DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has filed a parallel Trump Foundation action and is investigating Cohen's ties to the sleazy taxi medallion industry. (Ditto on Trump pardons.)How did Trump manage to operate with such impunity for so long?
That's easy. Trump, family members and associates and pals like Cohen and Broidy thought they were above the law, and after Trump became president, thought they were further immunized from it.
This also is a clue to Trump's run-amok administration, which even 30-some firings and resignations of Flynn and other officials and ranking aides later still includes Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who not only is tainted by his association with the favorite offshore bank of Russian oligarch money launderers but allegedly has stolen a cool $120 million in various schemes. Then there is my current favorite -- the trio of no-experience Trump cronies who have been running the Veterans Affairs Department out of the boy's clubhouse at Mar-a-Lago.
But Andrew Sullivan suggests that despite the smell of blood in the water and the growing probability that Democrats will take back the House and we may actually get a look at Trump's tax returns, that we check our enthusiasm. He strikes a chillingly cautionary note in his latest New York magazine essay:
What we're about to find out is if Trump can pull off all his usual tricks, and face no serious political or legal consequences for this. I'd say that question remains nerve-rackingly open. . . .
[T]his is the beginning, not the end. Everything we know about Trump would lead you to believe he will defend himself, like every other mafia boss, to the bitter end. His current strategy is to dismiss the recent convictions as nothing to do with him, and nothing to do with collusion with Russia. "NO COLLUSION." And that may well work with his base — unless evidence does emerge of a knowing conspiracy with Russia, giving Mueller the goods without any serious doubt. Or unless we discover that Trump himself obviously used his constitutional powers to obstruct justice.
Well, Trump obviously did obstruct justice. As well as repeatedly perjure himself. And who knows what he may yet do as he turns up the heat under his race war (look out, Andrew Gillum), manufactures left-wing conspiracy theories to pre-explain a Democratic victory in November, and revs up the presidential pardon machine.
It ain't over until it's over. Not by a long shot.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.