Manafort convicted, Cohen caves and Trump's in trouble

Manafort convicted, Cohen caves and Trump's in trouble
Comment: Even more now rides on the Midterm elections in November, writes Andrew Leber.
5 min read
22 Aug, 2018
Pressure mounts on the Trump administration as he arrives for a West Virginia rally [AFP]
Plotlines collided in American politics yet again this week, as President Trump's former campaign manager was convicted on eight counts of financial fraud and his former lawyer pled guilty to a range of charges - including campaign finance violations. 

This comes days after The New York Times  revealed that White House counsel Donald McGahn II – not the president's personal lawyer - has "cooperated extensively" with the special counsel investigation into Trump's actions as candidate and as president.

Cohen copped to making illegal campaign contributions "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," paying for the silence of two women who might go public with stories of affairs with said candidate for federal office - Donald Trump.

Though Manafort did not directly implicate the president - "unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break'," tweeted the president. His conviction marks a public victory for Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election led to the charges in the first place.

And McGahn, reportedly worried that the president's associates were setting him up to take the fall for alleged wrongdoing, is said to have provided the special investigation with key insights into whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

True to character, the president slammed his former lawyer - "I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!" – made light of Manafort's crimes, and downplayed the news about McGahn in language befitting a cheap imitation of a mob boss. "The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying […] [McGahn] must be a John Dean type 'RAT'."

The president and his defenders seem intent on showing us what might have happened if Nixon and his associates had gone all out

John Dean was a Nixon-era White House counsel who, concerned President Nixon and his associated were setting him up to take the fall for the Watergate break-in, began cooperating extensively with the Senate Watergate investigation.

"Slow Burn," Slate's podcast reconstruction of what it was like to live through Watergate, makes for a sobering listen in this times, especially as host Leon Neyfakh notes all the ways in which Nixon and his associates might have got away with clandestine actions to warp American politics, were it not for key mistakes along the way and Republicans willing to break ranks with the president.

Read more: Former Trump aides Cohen, Manafort plead guilty of fraud

The president and his defenders seem intent on showing us what might have happened if Nixon and his associates had gone all out to bully, bluster and demonise their way out of political peril, with captive media markets and a supine, bicameral Congressional majority to boot. It has long been clear that just about everybody on the political right who could make a difference has, indeed, no sense of decency.

News of Manafort and Cohen broke as President Trump headed to the 23rd mass rally after taking office, rallies that, during the 2016 election were followed by a noticeable spike in violent crime in host cities.

There, in West Virginia, he railed against immigration laws, Democrats, environmental regulations and "fake news" as if nothing had changed, even leading the crowd in an anti-Hillary Clinton chant of "lock her up," the irony of which was 
obviously lost on everybody present.

The political strategy remains the same: Lean on conservative media outlets to bury allegations in obfuscation and whataboutism and play up hot-button social issues to ensure loyal Republican voters still head to the polls in November.

Conservative commentators spared no effort in deflecting this week's implications for President Trump and co. The Federalist laughably focused on the Manafort jury's inability to reach a verdict on some of the counts, while Rudy Giuliani ran his credibility through the office shredder for the umpteenth time by claiming Cohen's guilty plea had nothing to do with the president, despite Cohen all but naming Trump as a co-conspirator.

Meanwhile, the demonisation of immigrants continues apace as Republicans seize on the opportunity to stoke racial fears ahead of the 2018 Midterms – a Republican standby since the election of President Nixon in the 1960s. The murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts has become another cause célèbre for advocates of stricter immigration policies, with the president hammering away at linking immigration to crime in the United States, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Meanwhile, the demonisation of immigrants continues apace

Repeating it doesn't make it any less true: Much rides on the 2018 Midterm elections in November. Casting doubt on the anti-immigrant rhetoric coursing through the Republican party, challenging President Trump's policies, ensuring real investigations into the actions of the president, his associated, and even foreign agents - all of this will require the Democratic Party to take back control of the House, though control of the Senate certainly wouldn't hurt either.

No amount of spin can cover up crisp and clear electoral losses. Recall Megyn Kelly's exasperated effort to demonstrate this to a Karl Rove in denial on the night of Barack Obama's 2012 electoral win. With citizen engagement in left-of-center politics picking up steam across the country, we can only hope that the election returns on 6 November, 2018 will send an unmistakable message of politics to come.

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.