President Trump’s inability to respond to one charge emanating from one witness, a charge not even within the purview of the special counsel, suggests he will be entirely overwhelmed when the closet full of shoes starts dropping. He never knew about the payments, or he did, or it was Michael Cohen’s fault, or it wasn’t a crime, or if it was a crime it was no big deal. This might be the most inept response to allegations of presidential wrongdoing ever.
Michael Cohen’s interview with ABC News underscores a critical point: His own credibility has been enhanced because prosecutors have so much information tying Trump to illegal payments and suggesting he knowingly made the payments in a way to avoid detection or harm to his campaign. (“There’s a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth,” he said.)
Now consider all the other investigations out there — on collusion, the Trump Foundation and obstruction of justice. Each of those investigations represents a bevy of possible criminal charges. Under the umbrella of “obstruction,” there could be specific criminal violations for obstruction, witness tampering, perjury and conspiracy. Consider that Robert S. Mueller III and the Southern District of New York could have multiple witnesses, phone records, texts, financial records, Trump’s own words and, in some cases, recordings to bolster his case. The sheer weight of all that evidence would break even a stable defendant represented by the best counsel.
For Trump, it is becoming hard to imagine how he survives politically or legally. Even if he avoids impeachment or avoids removal, only about a third of the country (with a smidgen of the total universe of evidence available to them) thinks he’s innocent. When charge after charge piles up, each backed up by multiple pieces of evidence, it’s not impossible to imagine that elected Republicans will turn on him — or that Republican voters, who see his presidency at a standstill, will begin to look for alternatives for 2020.
Remember that Trump never thought he’d really get elected — and then all this would come out. And once he got elected, he failed entirely to appreciate that he could not control investigators, witnesses, the press and even former associates. Cohen is right when he says that “the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It’s not like the Trump Organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done.”
Trump seems to have gotten a bunch of things wrong:
- He thought former attorney general Jeff Sessions would shut down the Russia probe;
- He thought the bullying and lies and congressional allies would impede investigators;
- He thought Cohen would never flip and would never have tapes and other evidence;
- He never thought Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg or American Media executives or David Pecker would cooperate with authorities;
- He never thought his tweets and public outbursts were helping to incriminate him;
- He never thought the shady operation of his foundation would draw the attention of the press, and in turn of New York state authorities;
- He never thought his pardon power would be so useless (If he pardons associates, the dam may break in Congress; if he tries to pardon himself it likely would be ineffective);
- He never thought he’d have to answer prosecutors' questions, or that his written answers may have locked him into answers that could be disputed by multiple witnesses;
- He never thought he’d face Democrats in Congress with subpoena power; and
- He never thought his media circus would be entirely ineffective in stopping skilled prosecutors.
Trump’s presidency, his financial empire and even his freedom are at risk. (Presidents can be indicted after leaving office and cannot pass out pardons for state offenses.) He can be angry at Sessions or Cohen, but he is solely responsible for his own fate, which right now looks awfully bleak.
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