Déjà-vu all over again. I have always admired that mot attributed to the philosopher Yogi Berra. And I think that if you look around at the latest episodes in the long-running, off-off Broadway entertainment “Get Trump” you’ll like it too. After all, this last week or so brought a veritable tsunami of déjà-vuable moments.
I suppose the central event was the sentencing of the President’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to three years in prison for . . . for what? CNN, that reliable fountain of fake news says it was for, inter alia, “arranging payments during the 2016 election to silence women who claimed affairs with Trump.”
Actually, the centerpieces of the charges against Cohen were tax and bank fraud and lying to Congress. Paying off tarts who claim to have had sexual relations with your patron a decade earlier is not a crime, but that didn’t matter to the prosecutors or to CNN. They just rebaptized the arrangement as a violation of campaign finance laws. Why? Because keeping the floozies quiet increased Donald Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 election. By that reasoning, as Conrad Black noted a few days ago, “a candidate who buys mouthwash or gets a haircut or a new suit, is equally trying to enhance his likelihood of election.”
Besides, even if these transactions were campaign finance violations—which they were not—they would be punished by a fine. As Andrew McCarthy noted, “when it was discovered that Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million—an amount that dwarfs the $280,000 in Cohen’s case—the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute. Instead, the matter was quietly disposed of by a $375,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission.” I understand that, as McCarthy noted elsewhere, “the law is murky” on the issue, but it is important to keep one’s eye on center stage and not get distracted by legal complexities.
To my mind, what actually happened last week is the same thing that has been happening since the summer of 2016 when the Obama Administration began taking out “insurance policies” (classical reference there!) by trying to frame the Trump campaign with bogus charges of “Russian collusion.” After November 9, 2016, that effort mutated into an effort to destroy the Trump presidency. The “Russian collusion” meme was the fons et origo of the effort. But that was only the beginning, and after almost two years and $35 million, Robert Mueller and his merry band of anti-Trump rogue prosecutors have failed to deliver a shred of evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Instead, they have latched on to various associates of Trump, uncovered real or imagined wrongdoing that has nothing to do with the president, and proceeded to squeeze them in an effort to encourage them to “sing”—or, if there is no relevant song, to “compose,” i.e., fabricate something harmful to the president.
Paul Manafort, who was briefly the president’s campaign chairman, is the most public figure to have come into the crosshairs of Mueller’s open-ended prosecutorial campaign. They dug and dug and dug and discovered some serious financial improprieties from a decade or more ago. None of these had anything to do with the president. But Manafort’s closeness to Trump led them to suspect that he might know, or be able to make up, something damaging. So they threw him into solitary confinement only to drag him out periodically to ask if his “memory,” or at least his powers of invention, hadn’t improved. It is disgusting behavior, worthy of Lavrentiy Beria. One wonders if these specimens of ruthless prosecutorial abuse will suffer a fate at least metaphorically similar to their hero. (“Show me the man,” said Beria, “and I’ll show you the crime.”)
And speaking of crime: what is the crime after which Mueller and his pack are spooring? What set the awesome coercive power of the state into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s hands? He and his team have indicted something like a score of people and companies. They’ve conducted dawn raids and intimidated and destroyed many careers. But apart from folks like Manafort and Cohen, who have been indicted for crimes unrelated to the 2016 presidential election campaign (Cohen’s payments to the tarts don’t count), the other unfortunate individuals have been nabbed on so called “process crimes.” In plain English, they were set up.
The hapless George Papadopoulos falls into this category. For a brief moment, the Left catapulted Papadopoulos into a starring role in the “Get Trump” drama. “How the Russia Inquiry Began,” panted the New York Times, in a piece riddled with errors and lies.
But of course the man in the news this week is General Mike Flynn, the person who for about 15 minutes was President Trump’s National Security advisor. What the deep state did to General Flynn, a genuine American hero and patriot, is truly unconscionable. The Obama Administration loathed Flynn (Why? See the bit about his being a “genuine American hero and patriot”). And so on January 24, 2016, just a day or two into the Trump Administration, they set him up. Indeed, the ineffable James Comey, former head of the FBI, soon-to-be grand jury interviewee, boasted about setting him up and noted that he would never have gotten away with it in the Bush or Obama administrations. Ponder this:
Andrew McCabe [the disgraced former Deputy Director of the FBI ] called Flynn on a secure phone to the White House on January 24. McCabe asked Flynn if he could send in a few agents to speak with him about “his communications with Russian representatives.” (Flynn’s private calls with the Russian ambassador had already been leaked illegally to the Washington Post; Flynn also was under investigation by the FBI for his alleged ties to the Kremlin.)
McCabe advised Flynn that “the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation . . . with the agents only.” If he wanted the White House counsel present, McCabe said, then he would “need to involve the Department of Justice.” Flynn deferred. Two hours later, two FBI agents, including the disgraced Peter Strzok, interviewed Flynn but did not warn him about making false statements to the FBI. Trump’s new national security advisor and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency viewed the agents, according to McCabe’s notes, as “allies.”
The one thing Flynn was culpable of was naiveté in thinking that the FBI agents were “allies.” He should have known better.
In any event, although Strzok and his unnamed partner concluded that Flynn was not lying, the home office decided otherwise. They charged him with lying to the FBI, bankrupted him with legal fees and threatened to involve his son in a smorgasbord of charges. So he agreed to a plea-bargain, which is legalese for testifying the way prosecutors want in exchange for a reduced sentence or immunity.
This story may be set for a happy ending, however, because Flynn’s attorneys, responding to the sentencing memo released by Mueller’s office, have fought back, outlining a wide range of partisan misconduct by the FBI. Enter U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, a gimlet-eyed opponent of prosecutorial abuse, who has demanded that Mueller’s posse send him all relevant documents in the Flynn case.
Only they didn’t send over all relevant documents. Indeed, it is not even clear that the FBI still has the original memos that Strzok and his partner would have prepared after their January 24 interview with Flynn. But if not, why not? Such memos are evidence that belong to the American people. Not everyone is Hillary Clinton, who can get away with lying under oath and destroying evidence.
The NeverTrump Right is gloat-warning that the fall of Michael Cohen has put the president in serious trouble. For example, from his pulpit David French advises Republicans not to “fool themselves: Trump is in serious trouble.” Meanwhile from his pulpit, Pete Wehner thunders that not only is Trump going down, but so too are his supporters: “the blast radius from the Trump presidency,” he tweeted, “will be enormous.”
Well, we’ve been here before. In fact, this chorus has been singing since before Trump was elected, an eventuality that was said to be impossible. How many “bombshells” have been detonated announcing the swift demise of the Trump presidency? But somehow, despite Robert Mueller, despite even CNN and MSNBC and the Washington Post, Donald Trump is still here.
Moreover, with every month that passes, he has strengthened his position. A huge number of campaign promises have been kept or are in the process of being kept. At his televised White House meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Tuesday the president inarguably showed that the Democrats, with their opposition to the border wall, are weak on border security, i.e., are weak on protecting the American people. I sometimes hear it said, even from some of the president’s supporters, that he lacks strategic vision, that while he may be adroit tactically, he lacks an overarching set of goals and a roadmap to achieve them. I disagree. Much to my surprise, I think Trump has emerged as one of the most successful presidents in history. I wouldn’t have predicted it. But here we are.
Yes, a week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson memorably said, and a lot could happen between now and 2020. But if the next two years are anywhere near as successful as the two years now coming to an end have been, I predict that Trump will be reelected in a landslide. The economy is booming, Trump’s foreign policy initiatives have been startlingly successful, and his many judicial appointments have been superb.
Let me also say that I predict that the two Jameses, Clapper and Comey, along with people like John Brennan, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, and possibly even Hillary Clinton have appointments with the grand jury brewing. I know, I know, we’ve been down this road before. It really does seem like déjà-vu all over again. But I long ago reconciled myself to André Gide’s melancholy observation: “Toutes choses sont dites déjà, mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer.”