Now There’s a Tape, Just Like Nixon’s

The appearance today of a recording in which the president commits criminal offenses —  assuredly not for the first time — moved Jennifer Rubin and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post to both comment. Below is a mixture of their responses (along with a few italicized comments from me):

When President Txxxx allegedly tried firing special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III, refused to respond to lawful subpoenas during the investigation into the 2016 election and committed the other acts to obstruct justice documented in the Mueller report, he arguably violated his oath, broke the law and committed impeachable conduct.

When he tried to extort [the] Ukrainian President (“I would like you to do us a favor though …”) to create dirt to use against now President-elect Joe Biden and stonewalled Congress’s demands for evidence, he again violated his oath, engaged in impeachable conduct and broke the law.

In neither case did Republicans recognize the facts before them. In neither case did they act to remove him.

[A president who] began his presidency trying to obstruct justice [is] ending it trying to obstruct democracy, and with an alarmingly large cadre of co-conspirators.

Some of this attempted obstruction is being conducted, as is so often the case with Txxxx, in plain sight; Txxxx’s anti-democratic conduct is so flagrant and so repeated that we become inured to how abnormal and unacceptable it is. Thus he has claimed massive fraud without basis, unleashed a barrage of litigation lacking the facts and the law to back him up, and riled up his believers to subscribe to the mass delusion that the election was stolen from him.

Behind the scenes, things are even worse, with the craziest of Txxxx’s crazy advisers pushing the president to pursue unimaginable possibilities such as declaring martial law or invoking the Insurrection Act to unleash the military to quell violence that he himself has sought to stir up.

That the ten living former secretaries of defense felt compelled to come together in an op-ed decrying any use of the military in an effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power underscores the peril of the moment. These aren’t just Democratic appointees — they are conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and the two secretaries Txxxx ousted for being insufficiently compliant, James Mattis and Mark ­Esper.

And now . . . we have a chilling glimpse of Txxxx’s delusional private arm-twisting in his frenzy to cling to power.

The Post reports: “President Txxxx urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat in an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that election experts said raised legal questions.” In the call, Txxxx asked Raffensperger to change the certified vote that was subject to multiple recounts: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

In fact he threatened him. The Post reports, “During their conversation, Txxxx issued a vague threat to both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel, suggesting that if they don’t find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County have been illegally destroyed to block investigators — an allegation for which there is no evidence — they would be subject to criminal liability.” Txxxx, sounding like a mobster as he often does, said, “That’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.” Nice career, there Brad. Shame if anything happened to it.

Pressuring a campaign official to change the vote is a federal offense [it’s a Georgia offense too]: “A person . . . who in any election for Federal office … knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process …” is subject to imprisonment of up to five years.

Threatening Raffensperger with criminal consequences is also arguably extortion: “Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits . . . any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee . . . or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

Georgia has counted its votes three times, once by hand, but Txxxx told Raffensperger, “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.” He warned that Raffensperger and his chief lawyer were running “a big risk” of criminal liability by failing to find voter fraud.

The man who sparked a special counsel investigation by urging the FBI director to “go easy” on his fired national security adviser, the man who triggered his own impeachment by soliciting a foreign leader to help him dig up dirt on Biden — this man will never learn [or change, as Rep. Adam Schiff memorably argued during the impeachment “trial” a year ago].

Really, why should he? There are never any real consequences.

Which brings us to Txxxx’s co-conspirators.

Vice President Pence . . . is constitutionally obligated to preside over [Wednesday’s] joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s electoral college victory. Pence’s chief of staff . . . issued a statement Saturday night saying that Pence “welcomes” congressional efforts “to raise objections and bring forward evidence” at the session. . . .

And the dozen or more Republican senators . . .who are turning what should be a ceremonial event into a constitutional circus. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, defending his move to object to the certification, could summon only Pennsylvania’s use of mail-in ballots when the state’s constitution “has required all votes to be cast in person, with narrowly defined exceptions.” The state legislature passed a law allowing no-excuse mail-in voting. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, without getting into the merits, threw out a challenge to the law.

“These are very serious irregularities, on a very large scale, in a presidential election,” Hawley intoned. This man calls himself a “constitutional lawyer” and a conservative? In our federal system, what happens in Pennsylvania is up to Pennsylvania. The legislature acted. The court rejected a challenge. The state certified Biden’s win. Hawley proffered not a scintilla of evidence of fraud. What is he arguing — that the votes of more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians should now be invalidated?

Not to be outdone — or outmaneuvered in the 2024 presidential sweepstakes — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, joined by 10 colleagues, is pressing for a commission to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election results, again, with no evidence to justify such a last-minute step.

Instead, Cruz, like Hawley, uses the very voter fears that Txxxx so carefully nurtured and his allies have stoked to justify the need for extraordinary intervention. Speaking to Fox News . . . , Cruz cited “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” — allegations that emanate from Txxxx and his allies — that he said have “produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country.” This is the arsonist calling the fire department to put out the blaze that he kindled.

“I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that,” Cruz lectured. “We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the democratic system.”

Oh please. No one has done more over the past months to undermine the integrity of the democratic system than Txxxx and his enablers. And if Cruz is actually worried about the integrity of the democratic system, he [should] start with the president.

There must be a response to a president who exploits his office for the purpose of overthrowing an election. The evidence is on tape. The next attorney general should move forward, if for no other reason, to deter further attempts at such reprehensible conduct. I would suggest impeachment as well, which could include a ban on holding office in the future, but we know already Republicans will defend anything Txxxx does [even if he declares himself King Donald the First and makes Ivanka his queen].

[If you choose to endure it, the Post has the audio and a transcript.]

“Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas” by Nicholas Pileggi

A more accurate subtitle would have been “Crime and Dysfunction in Las Vegas”.

Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie Casino starred Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci. It wasn’t as good as some of his others. This is the book the movie was based on. It tells the true story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a successful gambler and handicapper, who ran a handful of Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s (he was played very crisply by De Niro). Rosenthal was given his job in Las Vegas by the Mafia, otherwise known as the Outfit, the Organization or the Mob. He married a former showgirl and prostitute named Geri, who had a lot of problems (she was played by Sharon Stone), and had a childhood friend, Tony, who grew up to be a vicious mobster (Joe Pesci, of course).

In 1982, somebody planted a bomb in Rosenthal’s car. He survived and soon after left town, living quietly in California and Florida for another 30 years. His wife (by then his ex-wife) and his childhood friend weren’t that lucky. Geri was only 46 when she died of an overdose on a street in Hollywood. Rosenthal’s friend Tony was beaten to death and buried in a cornfield by some of his colleagues, possibly because he had an affair with Geri and was suspected of putting the bomb in his friend’s car. The crime bosses in Chicago and Kansas City didn’t like the fact that Tony had made trouble in Las Vegas. They preferred things to be quiet so they could continue stealing millions of dollars from the place (with Lefty Rosenthal’s help).

I kept reading the book even though it was tiresome at times. A lot of it is direct quotation from the people involved. They are what you might call “colorful”. I suppose that’s why stories about mobsters, factual or fictional, are popular. Although they’re very bad people who lie a lot and exaggerate their exploits, their lives are made to seem dangerous and exciting. And they can be funny guys, like the character Joe Pesci played in one of Scorsese’s better movies (“I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to . . . amuse you?”).

Fourteen Felonies?

Michael Cohen, the president’s former “fixer”, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. He described the president as a racist, a conman and a cheat — no news there. He also said the president is a criminal — ditto.

But Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, performed a public service by attempting to list “the incredible number of felonies that Cohen directly implicated Trump in”. We don’t know for sure if the president committed all these crimes. On the other hand, Cohen was merely answering questions, not telling us everything he knows about the president’s illegalities. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive collection of felonious behavior:

1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (collusion) – Cohen’s allegation that Trump and Stone spoke about the impending Wikileaks release of [Democratic National Committee] emails before they were released with [Roger Stone] asserting to Trump that he had communicated with [Julian Assange of Wikileaks].

2. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied ever having spoken to Stone about Wikileaks. Cohen said this is false.

3. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied knowing about Don Jr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Cohen said this is false.

4. Campaign finance violations – Cohen provided a check that shows that Trump reimbursed him for the $130,000 he paid to Stormy Daniels to conceal their affair.

5. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (election fraud) – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him and Allen Weisselberg of the Trump Organization to conceal his affair with Stormy Daniels with the intention of fraudulently influencing an election.

6. False statements on a loan application – Cohen brought Trump’s partial financial records for 2011-2013 that Cohen alleged showed that Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets to obtain a loan in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills.

7. Insurance fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would make false insurance claims.

8. Tax fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would knowingly provide inaccurate lower values of his properties in order to fraudulently obtain tax benefits.

9. Witness tampering – Cohen said that Trump’s threatening tweets were an attempt to intimidate him, saying Trump could do “a lot” to hurt him and his family.

10. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that in a meeting in the White House, Trump indicated that he wanted Cohen to provide a false message saying “No Russia. No collusion.”

11. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow edited his Congressional testimony to falsely shorten the duration of the negotiations on the Trump Moscow project.

12. Obstruction of a Congressional proceeding – The witness tampering and the suborning perjury constitutes obstruction of a Congressional proceeding.

13. Perjury – Cohen says that Trump’s 2013 sworn testimony that he wouldn’t recognize Felix Sater was clearly false, explaining that Sater had an office on the same floor as Trump in Trump Tower.

14. Illegal use of charity assets for personal benefit – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him to get a straw bidder to buy a portrait of Trump at an auction and that Trump then directed the Trump Foundation to reimburse the fake bidder with its assets.

Cohen testified in closed sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Might he have described a few more felonies? Let’s put it this way. If our legal system works as it should, the Donald will spend his twilight years living in confined quarters at the government’s expense.