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Sunday, December 09, 2018

If he makes it through the next two years, don't underestimate Trump's strength in 2020

by digby

Adam Davidson at the New Yorker has a column called "The Swamp" which chronicles Trump and Trump administration corruption. It's an incredibly rich beat as you might imagine. I thought this observation was especially astute. He lays out all the revelations of last week's filings and concludes:

The picture revealed in these and earlier filings are of Trump surrounded by a small group of now admitted criminals and others who show little professional accomplishment other than a willingness to do Trump’s bidding. In an almost cruel jab, Robert Khuzami, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, points out that Cohen—a lawyer trained in the earlynineteen-nineties at one of America’s least respected schools, working out of the back of a taxi-cab garage—made seventy-five thousand dollars a year before he started working with Trump, in 2007. (The average salary of a first-year lawyer in New York City is a hundred and sixty thousand dollars.) Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime accountant and C.F.O., who now runs his company, has already revealed himself to be comfortable with practices that violate easily followed rules of accounting. In the lawsuit against the Trump family’s foundation, Weisselberg has already confessed to practices that are so inept and illegal on their face—such as taking tax deductions for running a foundation that appears not to have existed—as to all but demand prosecution.

Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.

We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.

This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?

Even more tantalizing are all those black lines of redaction in Manafort’s and the addendum to Michael Flynn’s sentencing memorandums. Manafort’s redactions center on contacts between him and Kilimnik, the Russian-intelligence asset. What were they discussing? Flynn, we know, was working on his own side deals with Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. How much of that business will be revealed? How much of it ties to Trump? And were similar offers of political favor given to the autocratic leaders of these other nations?

There is much discussion about the fact that Trump’s core followers and, therefore, nearly all Republican elected officials, will support him no matter what. That may be true, though polling data does suggest that, when the public learns of bad acts, Trump’s support falls, and, when things are quiet for a while, it rises. There are complex political and even psychological processes that will determine whether Trump will be removed from office in disgrace or will go on to a second term.

Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts.

But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.

I don't know what will happen. But there is a very good chance that he will be able to hang on until the election two years from now. Everything depends upon beating him. And I fear that too many Democrats are succumbing to the delusion that many held in 2016: that anyone should be able to do it so it's in the bag. I hope that everyone sobers up before then and realizes that there is no guarantee. His following has a full-blown partisan media operation backing him and they have become adept at cheating. And as we've seen there are no limits to how much help they will accept from American adversaries. They are a formidable foe and everyone needs to take this very seriously or 2020 may be the last semi-democratic election we ever have.