Tom Clyde: Manafort, Cohen convictions less than satisfying
August 25, 2018
So this week we can add Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort to the already long list of President Donald Trump cronies who have pled guilty or been convicted of felonies. Not all of the offenses are directly tied to the campaign. Manafort's tax problems were individual, but his way of raising cash depended on proximity to the president. Cohen paying off Stormy Daniels wouldn't be a crime except that it happened in the context of the campaign and was done to advance the campaign. It's all well short of a bullseye. The involvement of Trump is as surprising as the sunrise, but it is material.
It was huge news in the strange way that things that are completely expected are huge news. I'm not sure anything changed. The Trump administration is corrupt, rotten to the core, with cabinet secretaries looting their agencies, and a couple of Trump's strongest supporters in Congress arrested on charges of insider trading and using campaign money for personal use. This was the guy who was going to "drain the swamp." I don't know what more it takes for his supporters to realize they've been had, but even the Christians still love him, porn stars and all.
He's still President, and still governing like a toddler jacked up on Red Bull and gummy bears. His agenda is all about more pollution — the regulations on coal-fired power plants are being relaxed; auto gas mileage targets have been removed; strip mining coal in what used to be a National Monument is now OK. He won't rest until the Cuyahoga River once again burns brightly in the night sky of Cleveland. The tax reform bill will have little impact on most people, and was more than offset by an increase in health insurance costs because, you remember, he was going to replace Obamacare with "something terrific." He never got around to the details. He's just smashing hell out of everything without the slightest clue how to fix any of it.
International trade is all up in the air because of his tariffs. Tariffs are taxes. Taxes are supposed to be imposed by legislation, which means Congress is supposed to pass laws imposing tariffs on steel from Turkey or wherever. That's not what's happening. Congress hasn't voted on much of anything in years. So how is Trump imposing new taxes, by himself, without Congress soiling their hands by actually doing their job?
I found the Big Day of Justice to be sort of a letdown. We’re not going to see Trump frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs convicted of treason.”
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It turns out there is something tucked into a law from 1917 – World War I, a hundred and one years ago – that said that in times of war, if necessary to protect national security, the president could impose emergency tariffs on his own. Congress couldn't act quickly enough, the thinking was, so the president could act on his own to block or restrict imported goods from presumably hostile countries.
How we got from Kaiser Wilhelm to Canadian plywood being a threat to national security is beyond me. It's apparently beyond the Republican-controlled Congress, too, since they have declined to stand on their hind legs and question whether that is a good policy, whether this really counts as a "time of war" within the meaning of the WWI legislation, and whether Canada is an emergency threat to our security. Plywood doesn't feel threatening in Home Depot. It just feels more expensive.
The pundits seem to think the Democrats will take control of the House in the next election, and possibly even shift the balance in the Senate. I guess that would help. But Trump still has a long time in office, and election of a Democratic Congress isn't the same thing as getting a two-thirds vote in the Senate to impeach. And if they could impeach him, the result is President Pence — a hunk of Styrofoam packing material. Paralysis seems like the only logical outcome. We tried that for 6 of Obama's 8 years. I'm not sure it worked.
So I found the Big Day of Justice to be sort of a letdown. We're not going to see Trump frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs convicted of treason. Sending Paul Manafort to prison for tax evasion doesn't undo the damage. It's all very unsatisfying.
Speaking of unsatisfying, is there a less exciting way to spend $1,000 than putting new tires on the car? The tires on my car probably had another 5,000 miles left on them, just not 5,000 winter miles. I had a blow out in Bluff, Utah, where there isn't even an air hose. I got a new tire in Blanding so I could drive home, but it came with dire warnings that I needed to have all 4 be identical or the four-wheel drive would blow up. So I bit the bullet and bought new tires all around. And the car drives, well, just exactly like it used to, but I should be able to get out of the driveway when the snow comes.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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