It seems like a long, long time ago that conservatives were America’s “law and order” people. Last Tuesday’s revelation that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had flipped and was implicating Trump in hush money payments — along with the multiple guilty verdicts obtained against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — had the brethren talking down The Man and hatching novel legal defenses like so many jailhouse lawyers.
Manafort’s conviction on eight out of eighteen charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, and financial-reporting irregularities in the first jury trial brought by Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller — with a second Manafort trial coming up fast — would seem to be bad enough news for Trump, suggesting as it does that Mueller has plenty in the tank for future prosecutions that could be dangerous for the president. But Cohen’s admission — he stated in court that “a candidate for federal office” (plainly Trump) directed him to pay off adult entertainer Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal, and that he had done so “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” — might be interpreted as evidence of a campaign finance violation.
The Manafort and Cohen reports came within minutes of each other, and some conservatives didn’t take the initial shock well. “SO WHEN ARE THEY GONG AFTER ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIED ABOUT BENGHAZI ONLINE AT THE DIRECTION OF BARRACK OBAMA TO PREVENT HIS LOSING THE 2012 ELECTION?” raved a nostalgic Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit. “But Democrats also have to ask themselves, do they want President Pence? Because that’s what you get if you manage to get rid of Trump,” wrote her colleague Glenn Reynolds, apparently going straight to the bargaining stage.
“If you get your information from the legacy media,” wrote Liz Shield at PJ Media, “you would think that Cohen put the nail in Trump’s coffin with his guilty plea, ‘admitting’ that the president directed him to pay off some (alleged) blackmailing trollops with campaign money. The #resistance is all worked up now because they think this is actually going to happen. When it doesn’t happen, they are going to be angry and, as we have seen, violent.” Clearly these charges were a secret message from Robert Mueller to unleash antifa riots across America. You won’t read that in legacy media!
But once the initial shock passed, everyone went to their battle stations: The more scholarly types set about splitting legal hairs (“regardless of what Cohen agreed to in a plea bargain, hush-money payments to mistresses are not really campaign expenditures”), while the dimmer lights told us how great this news was for Donald Trump.
“The press thinks yesterday was a bad day for the President. Actually, it was a good day for the President,” wrote Erick Erickson at the Resurgent. In fact, he continued, it “probably helps Trump in 2020,” because even “to the extent this causes voters to put Democrats in charge of the House, it gives the President some group he can more easily vilify.” Now all Trump has to do is lose both houses of Congress by a veto-proof majority, and he’ll have the Democrats right where he wants them.
At the Washington Examiner, Byron York also found Manafort’s conviction good news for Trump: After all, “Manafort was convicted of shady dealing going back a long way. His behavior had been examined by the Obama Justice Department, which took no action against him. It was only because Manafort hooked up with Trump…that Manafort got caught and his foreign money schemes exposed.” So, from a certain perspective, Manafort is Obama’s fault, and the Trump presidency resulted in his conviction. Also, said York, Manafort’s case had given the public “a glimpse into what Washington influence peddlers have gotten away with for decades” — and isn’t Trump all about draining the swamp?
Various volunteer legal advisers used their media venues to tell the president he could beat the rap. Radio shouter Mark Levin, for example, compared Trump’s payoffs to former sexual partners with hypothetical payoffs to “vendors” or “a disgruntled employee,” which in Levin’s view would be “perfectly legal” — though he didn’t stipulate whether, in these hypothetical situations, Trump had also fucked the vendors or disgruntled employee and was trying to keep that a secret for political purposes. (But from what former Trump doorman Dino Sajudin has been telling the press, we may get to test that scenario soon enough.)
At the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway viewed the events of the week from a moral rather than legal perspective, making them easier to spin. On Manafort’s and Cohen’s tax frauds, Hemingway gently chided, “Nobody likes paying onerous taxes, but the way to fight high taxes is through political means, not by lying to the federal government” — as if Manafort and Cohen were conscientious objectors to IRS regulations rather than tax cheats.
Hemingway then redirected her readers’ attention to what she apparently thinks is the real problem: a lack of faith in the justice system, caused by the prosecution of Republicans. “A big problem for federal prosecutors,” she claimed, “is that public trust in their application of the rule of law is low because of how they handle political cases.” Hemingway cited no metric for measuring the “public trust” of prosecutors, which is probably wise, considering how high Robert Mueller’s poll numbers are right now.
As for Trump paying off co-adulterers, Hemingway allowed that “adultery is wrong” and “spouses are called to live a sexually pure and decent life in what they say and do.” She no doubt hopes Trump has learned a valuable lesson, or at least will say that he has at the next fundamentalist group hug.
At Reason, Clark Nelly predicted that “Trump will emerge from the Michael Cohen kerfuffle more powerful, more energized, and more electable than he was going in,” because “given how complex and abstruse campaign finance laws are, can any candidates be 100 percent confident they committed zero violations?” Surely Joe Sixpack will be able to relate to this legal dilemma.
At American Greatness, Roger Kimball did a J’Accuse over the grave injustice done Manafort and Cohen. “Like a cat toying with an injured mouse, the modern major prosecutor keeps batting his prey about till he stops moving altogether,” he wrote. “For wretched power-drunk commissars like Robert Mueller, the process, because of the punishment, is all the fun. They enjoy tormenting people.” Watch for the day Kimball says anything so sympathetic about a victim of overzealous prosecution who is not a rich, white fixer for Republicans; when it comes, commission a skating rink in Hell.
It got to the point where NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch was telling people with a straight face that prosecutors were “trying to Al Capone the president,” referring to the gangster’s famous conviction for tax evasion rather than for greater crimes the feds couldn’t make stick. She got a lot of ribbing for that (“Some other resonances between Trump and Al Capone”), but, from the point of view of Trump supporters, it makes sense: It was always obvious that, one way or the other, the criminally connected Trump would wind up in legal trouble as president; the only question is whether he can get off. As more Trump associates flip, his fans seem to think raising the noise-to-signal ratio will help — perhaps by raising the specter of a popular “revolt,” as Rudy Giuliani tried to do. But if they want to convince normal people that their leader should be above the law, they’re going to have to come up with more compelling material.