“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.