OMG! We witnessed on Tuesday August 21, in little more than an hour, a confluence of events that a political thriller screenwriter would reject as too far-fetched. But the head-spinning news was true, and, if you’re Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen or Donald Trump, the truth was astonishingly bad.
At almost exactly the same moment, in two courthouses only a few hours drive from each other, two of Trump’s key associates were found guilty on multiple counts for federal crimes.
In Virginia, at the trial of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a jury found the defendant guilty on eight counts of tax fraud and bank fraud. Since this was the first jury conviction in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, you might think this would be the worst news of the day for Trump and his base and enablers.
You’d be wrong.
At the same time as the Manafort jury delivered the guilty verdicts, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen stood in a federal courtroom in New York City and pled guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, and, most critically for potential impact on Trump, a count of having violated campaign finance laws “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” Trump isn’t named, but Cohen’s court filing refers to “Individual-1, who by January 2017 had become president of the United States.” The violation refers to payments Cohen made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to prevent them from going public with their salacious stories in the weeks before the 2016 election.
Tuesday’s events echo one of Doonesbury’s most memorable comic strips about Watergate:
We can’t overstate the shattering implications of what went down on Aug. 21. For starters, Cohen stated under oath in open court that “Individual-1” (evidently He Whose Name May Not Be Spoken, but who we all know is Donald J. Trump) conspired with him to commit a federal crime. Cohen further said that the charge linked to McDougal was done “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” In normal times, this alone would be sufficient to initiate impeachment proceedings. Sadly, these are not normal times. Rather, these are times when a gutless GOP-controlled Congress won’t even think the “I” word for fear of Trump and his base turning on them.
Meanwhile, 69-year old Manafort faces a sentence that legal experts estimate from seven to 10 years, and a second trial on separate Russia-related charges due to start next month. The pressure for him to cut a deal for leniency in exchange for info about Trump appears immense.
Which is why Aug. 21 shoved us a huge step closer to the precipice of a constitutional crisis! Trump could pardon Manafort and/or Cohen. Most likely? A pardon of Manafort to try to keep his former campaign manager from “flipping.” And Manafort’s steadfast refusal (preceding his convictions) to bargain with prosecutors suggests he is counting on a pardon. Conversely, appearing on the Today show the Day After, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis stated that his client would not accept Trump’s pardon, elaborating that Cohen “. . . considers a pardon from someone who acted so corruptly as president to be something he would never accept.”
Trump’s pardon of a key witness would be a serious, crisis-precipitating obstruction of justice; an attempt to impede the investigation into crimes his co-conspirator has plead guilty to, crimes that may have altered the outcome of the election and thus call into question the legitimacy of his victory.
- Firing Mueller
- Pardons of key witnesses
- Actions that would prevent the investigation from being conducted freely, such as replacing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller’s current supervisor, or repealing the regulations establishing the office
What you can do now:
- See MoveOn’s Mueller’s Firing Rapid Response – The Plan. It includes the general plan, and also addresses something that we’re all wondering — what happens AFTER we hit the streets?
- Find and RSVP to attend a Nobody Is Above the Law rapid response rally near you (900+ events as of August 22, 2018)
- No local rally? Sign up to host one. And spread the word by sending the link to everyone you know
- Read this NBC News article for a great rundown of emergency planning Democrats are taking to prep for the “break glass” moment if Trump tries to shut down the Russia investigation.
- Read our articles for historical background, much more information, and to learn what actions we’ve been taking:
- April 12, 2018 (updated May 1, 2018): Nobody is Above the Law
- Feb. 7, 2018: Destroying Democracy: Worse Than Watergate, More than Mueller
- Dec. 12, 2017: No One is Above The Law
- Nov. 3, 2017: No Saturday Night Massacre 2017
And prepare if we need to hit the streets:
- Read the ACLU’s article Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations
- Download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app to record police activity and send it immediately to the ACLU affiliate nearest you. Get the California app, MobileJusticeCA
- Put the National Lawyers Guild hotline numbers into your phone, and write them on your arm in ink:
- to call from local jails ONLY: 415-285-1011
- outside of jail calls, call NLG hotline volunteers: 415-909-4NLG (4654)
- if no answer, send an email to the NLG Demonstrations Committee at email@example.com
- Prepare a go-bag with:
- charged cell phone and portable power if you have
- water bottle and energy bars or other portable food
- layers of clothing to add if it gets cold
- a sign with your message
Doonesbury comic strip © Garry Trudeau
Photo-montage of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Paul Manafort © Getty Images
Ted Landau contributed to this article. Ted is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.