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All the news fit to print

SoVaNow.com / April 11, 2018
Hmmm, I wonder what the headlines are saying these days ….

F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen; Trump Calls It ‘Disgraceful’, The New York Times, Monday, Apr. 9

Feds Are Treating Michael Cohen Like a Mob Lawyer, Trump Allies Say, Daily Beast, Apr. 9

‘A bomb on Trump’s front porch’: Cohen raids hit home, The Washington Post, Apr. 9

Mueller Investigating Ukrainian’s $150,000 Payment for a Trump Appearance, NYT, Apr. 9

Trump Acknowledges Farmers to Feel Impact From China Trade Actions, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 9

Republican tax cuts to fuel historic U.S. deficits: CBO, Reuters, Apr. 9

Even for Donald Trump, this was a prodigious output for a Monday. Perhaps the day’s best line belonged to Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general, writing in the Times about Trump’s legal troubles after an alleged sexual dalliance with a porn star: “Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump appear to be vying for the world record for the longest one-night stand in history.”

Guh. More from Litman’s Times op-ed: “Mr. Trump wouldn’t be the first person to stumble into a one-night stand and find he has generated a decades-long relationship. But he may very well be the first president. As matters stand, there is the distinct possibility that the president’s legal clinch with Stormy Daniels will outlast his presidency.” As matters stand, there is also a distinct possibility Trump’s presidency might come to a premature ejection amid a swirl of legal and political troubles — from porn stars and Playboy bunnies, special prosecutors, plus the voters when mid-term elections come around in November. Drip-drip-drip is turning into boom-boom-boom.

In the meantime, the FBI’s Monday morning search of the office and living quarters of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime legal fixer and attack dog, is quite the amazing thing. Initiated by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (not, as Trump falsely suggested Monday, by special counsel Robert Mueller, although the matter was apparently referred by Mueller’s team, hmmm), the raid had to clear a set of very high legal hurdles before happening, owing to the rules of attorney-client privilege.

Here’s what we know about what went down: Mueller & Co. apparently uncovered something in their investigation that didn’t fall clearly within their jurisdiction as set forth by the Justice Department, so the matter was kicked upstairs to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election (remember, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself). From there, Rosenstein assigned the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan (led, by the way, by a Trump appointee, although reports say he recused himself from the matter. Double hmmm.) The request for a warrant to search Cohen’s home and office required the approval of a federal judge (or judges), who not only would have had to find probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, but also a substantial likelihood that evidence was at great risk of being destroyed. Attorney-client privilege is a high hurdle but not an insurmountable one. U.S. Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who sits on the D.C. federal district court, stated the matter succinctly: “when a client commits a crime and the lawyer is in on it, or vice versa, both may as well forget about any claim of privilege that may exist between them. Their privileged interactions, so long as they’re connected to a criminal enterprise, are fair game for prosecutors.”

Of course, the possibility exists that the FBI’s interest here is solely with Cohen and not Trump, consistent with Cohen’s fabulistic tale in l’Affair Stormy, wherein he supposedly paid $130,000 in hush money to the president’s porn star paramour without Trump’s knowledge. There are all kinds of problems with this story, but it did have the advantage of distancing Trump from personal legal peril. However unlikely Cohen’s story about acting on his own is to be true, there is a speck of possibility that attorney-client privilege didn’t ultimately figure into the courts’ issuance of search warrants — maybe FBI agents knocked on Cohen’s door early in the morning because of something they alleged Cohen did totally independently of Donald Trump. Yet while there is much at this point that we don’t know, there is this much we do know: Cohen is a dolt of a lawyer with a fool for a client. It was inevitable that Trump, rather than act like an innocent man, would take the doth-protest-too-much route, on Twitter, of course. “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” the president shared Tuesday. “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT,” he tweeted later in the morning. Way to go, Mr. President — way to directly connect yourself to the clear target of a criminal probe. Don’t they teach plausible deniability at president training school these days?

I’m sure there are some Deep State fantasists who still believe Trump’s witch hunt nonsense, but to review: (1) the criminal investigation of the president’s personal lawyer required the sign-off of the president’s appointees at the Justice Department, (2) a further level of review was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, also led by Trump appointee, and (3) a federal court had to authorize the search warrants for carrying out the raid — an investigative step that must meet a very high standard indeed, requiring strong evidence of likely criminal behavior by the president’s lawyer and perhaps the president itself. Probably none of this will impress Trumpian die-hards. Still, back when the candidate coined MAGA* no one knew the phrase would turn out to stand for “My Attorney Got Arrested.” (* Yes, it’s a joke stolen from the internet.)

Politics in Trump’s America is alternately hilarious and terrifying — on the spectrum of possibility that exists every waking day, there’s an acid-laced episode of The Three Stooges on one extreme pole to the triggering of a mushroom cloud on the other. Our present reality is hell on one’s constitution — and on the Constitution. Will Trump really try to fire Robert Mueller? Will Congress and members of the Republican Party stand idly by as the president trashes the rule of law? Is there actually a pee-pee tape with Russian hookers and Moscow Don floating around out there somewhere? To so much as raise these questions is to run the risk of forfeiting one’s sanity. It all makes you want to jump off of a very tall bridge, or vomit. There is an alternative: Vote in November to kick Trump’s enablers out of office and kneecap the White House in a way that even Michael Cohen can appreciate. So far, the list of Republican officeholders who have distinguished themselves during the Reign of Trump can fit comfortably on a Post-It Note. That leaves a plenty of others sorely in need of a Stormy Daniels-style spanking at the ballot box.

***
Monday’s FBI-Cohen-Trump blowup has pushed other scandals and crises off to the sidelines, but not really: as the list of headlines at the beginning of the column indicates, there’s an outrage in the offing in whichever direction you care to look. Trillion dollar deficits, North Korea, Facebook, EPA Grifter-in-Chief Scott Pruitt, National Guard troops spinning their wheels at the border, and the list goes on and on. At least we have Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani doing a most excellent Babe Ruth impression for the Los Angeles Angels to cheer up the country. So not all the news is bad.

Let’s focus on a Trumpian phenomenon of immediate local concern: his budding trade war with China. The good news is that the threats on both sides are mostly just chatter at this point. The bad news is the President of the United States has the impulse control of a 4-year-old or an incontinent cat, depending on the day of the week. So this entire business could get out of hand pretty quickly. Blundering wars can be the hardest to back down from, which is why the international community could set the world on fire during the First World War and yet somehow not accomplish much in the end. In other words, no one wins trade wars.

But rural communities such as our own sure could lose big-time: the Chinese have preemptively identified farm products — including tobacco, soybeans and grains, all local staples — as targets for retaliation if Trump goes ahead and slaps tariffs on Chinese imports. This seems like a good time to point out that most farmers are politically conservative and vote Republican, and I’m sure many cheered when Trump performed his alpha male act during the 2016 campaign and vowed to slap around Mexican immigrants, California liberals, federal judges and other deviant elements of society. But that’s the problem with bully-boy tough guys: their aim is so bad you can never tell who they’ll sucker-punch next. Tobacco farmers?

I would greatly prefer to see Trump launch a trade war against China as opposed to the real thing with North Korea, say, or Iran. (Missiles at Syria sounds like an inevitability, although you never know with Mr. Talk Loud and Carry A Small Stick.) Given the events of the past week, one figures the rage welling inside Trump’s brain must be burning with the heat of a thousand suns, so literal wars can no more be ruled out than metaphorical ones. We’ll see. Ordinary I’d advise ignoring the possibility that the United States could embark on a course of action as stupid as a tariff throwdown with China, but counting on cool and rational heads to prevail in the end really doesn’t seem to work very well in this day and age of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of these United States.


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