Cynicism is often confused with wisdom. To some, the mark of a seasoned political observer is the extent to which someone is capable of logical contortions and moral compromises to support a politician’s preferred narrative. Few have made such a sport of testing the faith of their supporters like Donald Trump.
There is no reason to believe that any of the president’s self-appointed defenders will be shaken by the news that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and personal attorney are going to jail. Nor will they experience a crisis of faith over Michael Cohen’s allegation that Trump conspired to violate campaign finance law and shield from the American public information to which they were legally privy. They might argue, as the White House has, that the president has not (and cannot, according to Justice Department guidelines) be charged with a crime. What should change some minds, however, are the statements the president made in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Ainsley Earhardt.
The president began by insisting that the government, of which he is the chief executive, is a perpetrator of gross misconduct. Cohen, Trump said, “pled to two counts that aren’t a crime, which nobody understands.” Trump said that, based on the information he gathered from watching “two shows,” the criminal conduct to which Cohen pleaded guilty and the version of events to which he attested should never have been accepted by government prosecutors. The fact that they were, so this thinking goes, amounts to either incompetence or gross misconduct and corruption.
Trump went on to attack his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The president insisted that the civil violation of campaign finance law attributed to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign is materially worse than the alleged felony violation of campaign finance law in which Cohen accused the president of being complicit. Trump attributed the substantial fines levied on the Obama campaign as a result of these violations without the possibility of jail time to the fact that Eric Holder was a more honest attorney general. “We have somebody that they seem to like to go after a lot of Republicans,” Trump said of Jeff Sessions, of all people.
But the worst was yet to come. “One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial,” the president said of his former campaign chairman. “I know all about ‘flipping,’” he continued. “Everything’s wonderful, and then they get ten years in jail, and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed.” The president went on to diminish the eight counts of bank and tax fraud of which a jury found Manafort guilty as “not a big deal.”’
The gall of this assertion from the president of the United States is staggering. The chief executor of the nation’s laws has, in effect, come out in opposition to turning state’s evidence.
Using informants and alleged criminals who testified for the government and against their associates is how the Italian mafia was finally broken, as Trump’s legal spokesperson Rudy Giuliani could readily attest. Gambino clan thugs Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano and John Alite’s decision to break the mob’s Omerta put behind bars some of the worst criminals the nation has ever seen. “The Last Don,” Bonnano family chief Joseph Massino secretly recorded his associates to avoid a death sentence. The fact that an American president would speak with such contempt about the practices of his own Justice Department—indeed, the essential nature of law enforcement in the United States—verges on a violation of his constitutional authority. Trump might as well have called his former attorney a “rat.”
This kind of unconscionable negligence may not be just loose talk. The intent to violate the oath of office is palpable in these comments, and you can be sure these remarks will find their way into articles of impeachment if Democrats manage to subject the president to that kind of humiliation. Trump isn’t just venting his spleen on national television here. He may end up influencing the course of a criminal prosecution with these words, and that would be an actionable dereliction of his duties as a constitutional officer. One thing is for sure, Donald Trump is in real trouble, and this interview did him no favors.