MAGA now officially stands for “My Attorney Got Arraigned,” because the past 24 hours have brought us to Peak Schadenfreude in terms of the bad stuff that has befallen the President of the United States. All the “work” about making America great again will just have to sit tight, because Donald Trump now has some shit he has to take care of first. Everyone who ever predicted that “X Will Be Trump’s Undoing” since about 1986 went on to lose the bet, but if Trump does go down, the 24-hour period beginning a little after 4 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 21, 2018, will probably be placed under glass and forever regarded as the most pivotal news cycle of our era.
Wasn’t it Infrastructure Week again? Doesn’t matter much, because literally within minutes, onetime campaign manager and serious karaoke enthusiast Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of fraud, and Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and campaign-finance violations. This was a coincidence in timing so amazing that it had to be celestial. Manafort’s slightly loopy jury seems to have had a little trouble jurying, as they deadlocked on another 10 charges, and it’s possible that Manafort’s case remains wholly self-contained, with no spillover effect on the president who once hired him other than a lingering odor.
It does seem weird that Mueller never charged Manafort with something more closely related to conspiracy, aka “collusion.” Did Vice President Spiro Agnew’s 1973 resignation over unrelated tax fraud really affect Nixon, who was neck-deep in Watergate by then? In the final analysis, maybe not.
Fine. But Cohen — holy shit. He’s giving every indication that he will lash out at his former master with extreme prejudice, like a Jacobean blood oath raised to the power of Inigo Montoya. Aunt Lydia won’t rule out pardons, but Cohen says he wouldn’t accept one. And Maggie Haberman says Trump realizes how serious this is.
Pulling back, this looks to open rather than close a chapter. Cohen had routinely been referred to as Trump’s “fixer.” “Shatterer” might be the apter term, and let’s not be conned into thinking Cohen’s cooperation catalyzes his transformation into one of the Good Guys. Because who does a fixer turn to when he’s in trouble? Lanny Davis! The always horrible Davis is not just some crisis-PR spinmeister for embattled celebrities; short of Roy Cohn himself, he’s one of the most odious men ever admitted to the bar. Davis was instrumental in race-baiting Barack Obama over Rev. Jeremiah Wright during Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and he later went on to defend a company that makes baby-formula additives and a coup against the government of Honduras. Just as Omarosa Manigault Newman briefly became an object of sympathy and possibly even respect, in spite of her long career as a paragon of scheming wickedness, Davis is now trying to flash-rehabilitate his incompetent stooge of a client and make him seem like the last honest man. (It’s the inverse of the Republican feeding frenzy once Cohen went turncoat.)
Omarosa’s charm offensive makes some sense: She’s telegenic, even electrifying. The woebegone Cohen, by contrast, is more like Henry Winkler’s character Barry Zuckerkorn from Arrested Development. In spite of all those millions he kept secret about, he’s now begging for people to contribute to his mounting defense costs via the Michael Cohen Truth Fund — a sick joke that will almost certainly reach its $500,000 goal in no time, probably via contributions from die-hard anti-Trumpsters who would raise an unholy zombie army to eat the president’s flesh if that’s what it took to end this nightmare.
But I sure do hope Cohen talks.
Outside his personal circles, Trump and the beleaguered Republican Party suffered another loss yesterday when Southern California Republican Duncan Hunter and his wife were arrested for stealing from Hunter’s own re-election war chest. Strictly speaking, these improprieties aren’t news; Hunter had already repaid $65,000 to his campaign account, including $600 on airfare for a pet rabbit. But from 2009-16, he illegally siphoned campaign cash on dental work, vacations to Disney World, fake car trips, 30 tequila shots and a steak at a bachelor party, “Punky Brewster items,” and — shudder — tickets to Michael Flatley’s Riverdance. The Hunters also overdrew on their checking account 1,100 times, accumulating $37,000 in bank fees. Always an America-fuck-yeah flag-waver, Hunter tried to pass off golf club purchases as “balls for wounded warriors” and allegedly told his chief-of-staff that the Navy “could go fuck themselves” for denying him and his wife a guided tour of a base in Italy on the day the Hunters wanted to visit. Soleil Moonfry could not be reached for comment.
Taking in almost all of eastern San Diego County, where Hunter and his father (also named Duncan Hunter) have represented the area for a combined 37 years, this is supposed to be a super-safe Republican seat even has half a dozen other GOP-held SoCal districts are poised to flip to Democrats in November. But now that Speaker Paul Ryan booted Hunter from all his plum committee assignments, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report categorizes the veteran-filled, R+11 district as “Lean Republican,” one notch away from “Toss-up.”
In another near-cosmic coincidence, this comes barely two weeks after upstate New York Rep. Chris Collins was indicted for insider trading. Collins was the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump, and Hunter was second. Who was the third Republican member to endorse? None other than Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Doesn’t Trump attack Sessions and call him names every chance he gets? Why yes, and naturally, there’s a (slightly confusing) tweet for that from over the weekend.
It’s hard not not read that “BLANK” as shorthand for “soon-to-be-former Attorney General.” If Melania consulted an astrologer the way Nancy Reagan used to, she might quietly ask her husband to stop tempting fate like this. Instead, the president did what he typically does in these situations: Babble incoherently in front of a friendly audience and bask in their ill-informed adulation.
Traveling to West Virginia for a rally on Tuesday afternoon, the economically depressed state that gave him a 42-point margin of victory over his 2016 opponent, Trump crowed about his 42-point margin of victory and told a few lies about coal.
We know Trump wouldn’t lose many fans in his key demographic even if China slapped a 4,000-percent tariff on U.S. coal exports, but it’s always worth noting when the president makes it totally obvious he has no idea what he’s talking about. He routinely refers to coal as “indestructible,” as if solar and wind power were the hothouse orchids of electricity generation — but by his own admission, the crowd seemed “flat.” His team played “Livin’ on the Edge” at that rally, which spurred Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler filed a cease-and-desist. Ouch, man. Even Dave Mustaine liked Rick Santorum. You’ve just lost the key adult-contemporary demo in the Boston suburbs.
Since it was also Tuesday, there were also primary elections — although only in Alaska and Wyoming. Trump endorsed billionaire Foster Friess — a would-be Koch Brother who has weird thoughts on birth control — for governor of the Equality State only to see him lose. Wyoming is Trump country like no other, as Trump’s 62-22 margin over Clinton was his best performance in the nation, and its tiny population means that even a late-breaking endorsement would only need to flip a few thousand people to alter the outcome. Is Trump’s dark magic wearing off?
On top of all that, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who allegedly killed Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in July and who was also allegedly an undocumented immigrant, turned out to be a lawful U.S. resident. Whether he committed a homicide is for the courts to decide, but at least today’s revelation about Rivera’s immigration status deprives the president of a Kate Steinle-esque talking point for his Volkssturm rallies.
So: guilty verdicts for a campaign chair, a consigliere who flipped, a Congressional ally who self-immolated, another nonsense rally, a cease-and-desist from a rock band, and an endorsement who flopped. And Fox News’ control room was so rattled, they played some puppy footage. Anything else?
How about a little self-incrimination? In this 50-second teaser for tomorrow’s sit-down with (who else but?) Ainsley Earhardt of Fox and Friends, Trump candidly admits that he knew about the payments to Stormy Daniels — then takes one more swipe at Sessions for good measure. If this isn’t the beginning of the end, we might as well give up trying.
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