During the campaign his rivals made an issue of the lawsuits filed against Trump alleging that Trump University engaged in a variety of illegal practices, ranging from making false claims and fraudulent business practices to racketeering. Before the election Trump said he would never settle the lawsuit, but shortly after his election, on Nov. 18, 2016, he agreed to a $25 million settlement under terms that let him admit no wrongdoing. US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — the same Indiana-born judge Trump called biased because of his “Mexican heritage” — finalized the settlement in April 2018. It marked the end of two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit from New York accusing Trump of “swindling thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars through Trump University,” in the words of then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Most of the attention toward Trump’s legal problems has been directed to the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, which brought the prosecution of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Mueller laid out evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice but he declined to declare Trump’s actions were criminal, apparently because it is Justice Department policy not to consider the incumbent president as a criminal.
But there are plenty of investigations that go beyond Mueller’s probe. Anita Kumar of Politico on June 17 counted at least 15 investigations of wrongdoing by Trump and his organizations. State and federal investigators in California, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., are examining more than $100 million in donations to Trump’s inauguration, checking whether foreign donors illegally contributed to the inaugural committee and whether the organization misspent funds. In New Jersey, investigators are looking into whether undocumented workers were given fraudulent documents at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., resort.
In New York, the Trump Foundation, was forced to dissolve, but it is still being investigated for potentially spending money on Trump’s company or campaign. The state’s Department of Taxation and attorney general are both on the case.
The New York attorney general also is looking into allegations that undocumented workers were forced to work extra hours without pay at Trump’s golf club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. The New York attorney general is also looking into large loans the company received, while the state’s Department Of Financial Services is scrutinizing the company’s insurance policies.
Even the Trump campaign, nearly three years after the 2016 election, is still facing government probes. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are examining whether the campaign illegally coordinated with Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump super PAC, as well as the much-publicized hush money payments Trump’s team made to two women over allegations of extramarital affairs with Trump.
Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who handled cases against public officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, told Politico Trump’s situation stands out. Unlike prior administrations, he noted, these cases are all about the president and his personal businesses — not those of his staff. “We’ve seen nothing on this scale,” he said.
The Democratic House plans hearings on Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, but the Trump administration is defying the House’s efforts to get information or testimony from current and former administration officials, claiming it is protected by executive immunity, and the Justice Department is loyally working with Trump to oppose the House’s efforts to enforce subpoenas.
House Democrats, back in session after the August recess, are planning to investigate hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf — and reportedly at Trump’s direction — to at least two women — former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Both women say they had affairs with Trump.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, cooperated with the investigation, which started with Robert Mueller’s team and was passed on to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Cohen outlined the arrangement to pay off Daniels to keep her from going public with her story. McDougal was given a similar financial arrangement by the owners of the National Enquirer.
Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for conspiracy to violate federal election laws, but prosecutors declined to pursue any further criminal charges, even after Cohen testified under oath that Trump was the one who directed him to make the illegal payments. The Justice Department apparently did not pursue felony charges against Trump because of its policy not to indict sitting presidents.
Remember that the White House first denied Trump had an affair with Daniels. then, after the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the hush money payments, Trump himself denied having any knowledge of the financial arrangement. Then his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani acknowledged that the president had reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Daniels. So if Cohen committed a felony, Trump did too.
Yet with all the legal scrutiny, Trump is still embraced by the Republican establishment. They stayed with him through his racist rhetoric aimed at Mexican Americans as well as the tape in which he is heard boasting of sexually assaulting women. They have closed ranks around him because he has put corporate lobbyists in key government positions to slash government regulations, he gave their billionaire backers the tax cut they demanded and he has put two right wingers on the Supreme Court and may have tipped the balance in the judiciary.
Many Republicans believe Trump can fight back against the allegations of racketeering by dismissing the probes as partisan “witch hunts,” on which he can raise money from his true believers. Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition and remains close to the White House, told Politico Trump doesn’t plan to shy away from talking about the inquiries.
“You have to lump these together, too. They’re all the same. They’re all witch hunts,” he said. “He’s comfortable telling the American public that these are partisan hit jobs.”
The American people cannot accept these evasions from responsibility. Trump is crooked and so are his enablers. Republican leaders are normalizing the Great Misleader’s lying and contempt for the rule of law. While Trump remains unpopular, even in the Midwestern states that provided his margin of victory in the Electoral College in 2016, Republicans are proceeding with voter suppression efforts, including purges of voting rolls, to deny working-class people access to the polls next November.
Trump’s incompetence and the scope of his corruption may be his undoing, but smarter and more ambitious Republicans have studied his methods and are lining up to take his place. There is more to do in restoring democracy than simply turning Trump out of office next year. His enablers need to go, too. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2019
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