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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Trump's campaign to threaten and silence women is coming unraveled

by digby

This article in Vox speculates that the Feds came across evidence of a campaign to threaten and pay hush money to people who had information about Trump's sexual issues

Three days after the FBI raided Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office, one clear possibility of what they were looking for is beginning to emerge.

That possibility is this: investigators suspect there was a major, potentially illegal, off-the-books spending operation aimed at making problems for Donald Trump’s campaign go away — and they’re wondering what Trump himself knew about it, or even whether he orchestrated it.

Consider the following. Agents wanted information on Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. They wanted information Cohen might have on a payment of $150,000 to Karen McDougal, shelled out by the National Enquirer’s parent company. They wanted information on a potential effort to prevent the release of Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” tape.

More broadly, the search warrant asked for Cohen’s communications with Trump himself, and other Trump associates, about “potential sources of negative publicity” before the election. It also asked for all communications between Cohen and two top National Enquirer figures, David Pecker and Dylan Howard.

Consider also the Washington Post’s report that Cohen is under investigation for “possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations,” along with the background information that raiding a lawyer’s office and targeting his communications with his client is an extremely serious matter unlikely to be carried out lightly.

Now recall, per Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, that Steve Bannon has bragged the Trump campaign “took care” of about “a hundred women.” (I’m assuming that number is hyperbole, but here’s what Bannon said.)

Bannon had previously bonded with [Marc] Kasowitz when the attorney had handled a series of near-death problems on the campaign, including dealing with a vast number of allegations and legal threats from an ever growing list of women accusing Trump of molesting and harassing them.

... “Look, Kasowitz has known him for twenty-five years. Kasowitz has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

We now know how two women — Daniels and McDougal — were taken care of by Trump’s allies: they were paid off with a combined $280,000. We’ve also learned of an earlier payment from the same media company that paid McDougal: $30,000 to hush up a former Trump building doorman who claimed he knew about a Trump love child.

Viewed together, all this looks a bit like a shadowy and very well-funded effort to hush up problems for Trump — one that certainly does not seem to have abided by campaign finance disclosure and contribution limit laws. And it leaves several more questions.

How many other, similar payments were there? For instance, the search warrant reportedly seemed to allude to efforts to prevent the Access Hollywood tape from coming out — if that happened, what did it entail?

Where exactly, was this money coming from? Solely Michael Cohen and American Media Inc., as claimed? Does it trace back to Trump himself, or companies controlled by him? The Trump campaign? Or could funds be coming from some other wealthy figure?

And if the funds aren’t coming from Trump, then why are others doing these extremely expensive favors for a billionaire presidential candidate? Were they looking to be repaid later on? Seeking “leverage” over him, as the Associated Press hypothetically suggests? None of the possibilities look good.

To be honest, I don't care much about Trump paying hush money for consensual affairs, per se. He's a sexual sleazebag, to be sure, but extra-marital affairs aren't matters of state, they are civil matters at best. If there were threats of violence or some kind of criminal payment scheme then they should have thought twice before doing it because when someone decides to run for president their life becomes an open book. Trump was able to flout that convention more than anyone in history but it was always going to be revealed one way or the other.

If he was paying off people to keep quiet he was tremendously vulnerable to blackmail. And considering the multiple accounts of sexual aggression and assault as well as his bragging on the subject, it's probable that he's silenced some women from coming forward with actual crimes.

Trump's treatment of women was an issue in the campaign but it came too late in the cycle to really stick and frankly, I don't think most people gave a damn. It was a bros vs hos elections and the bros, unsurprisingly, won. However, things have changed since then. The nation has had its consciousness raised about this behavior, some of which is attributable to the spectacle of a president being elected despite admitting to sexual assault and the ensuing #MeToo movement that exposed the ubiquitous nature of it.

We don't know how many women Trump's "fixer" has silenced either with money or threats or both. But we may find out now. Anyone with Trump's history and half a brain would have thought twice about running for president in the first place. He doesn't even have half. His ego takes up all nthe space where his brain should be.