Michael Cohen Testimony: Where the Buck Stops

Originally published Feb. 28, 2019 | Link to original

Michael Cohen’s testimony on the floor of the hearing room Weds. Photo by Sarah Silbiger, NY Times.

Dear Friend and Reader:

Those who took the time out to watch Michael Cohen’s testimony Wednesday heard him describe what is essentially a vast criminal syndicate led by Donald Trump, which has accompanied him into the White House. Cohen hinted that federal prosecutors in New York City (the Southern District of New York) had a long way to go unraveling the president’s crimes.

Cohen was Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer, who pled guilty to various federal crimes charged by the Special Counsel and by prosecutors in New York City. He was the archetypal right-hand man who makes problems — serious problems — go away. Cohen helped get Trump elected many different ways, including setting up the first campaign website, ShouldTrumpRun.com, in 2011.

Thursday’s print edition of The New York Times.

While I will get into the astrology in detail on Sunday’s program, there was one particularly stunning aspect: the Sun conjunct Nessus, to the degree. Someone Trump used as a weapon was now coming back to him as one. Additionally, Cohen was taking total responsibility for his actions. He was dealing, in the spirit of Nessus: the buck stops here.

It was not that much new information came out of the full day of testimony, but for the first time, we heard about it live, from a direct witness and participant, being asked real questions. All those questions lead to a bigger one, about our ability to respond.

No, the bigger question was not whether Cohen would get a book deal or become a TV pundit when he got out of jail. (Republican representatives who questioned him were obsessed with that notion; that was apparently on the talking points memo.)

Despite the snide, condescending jeering by nearly all Republican representatives, Cohen remained cool and calm, responding with only mild annoyance when he was attacked.

One of my Facebook friends, Marsha Downs, observed, “They accused him of lying before to Congress. He did previously. Now he turned his story 180º and they accuse him of lying. How can he be lying both ways? Too bad they didn’t take more time to look into what cover ups he was doing for Pinocchio instead of talking about book deals. It was a total mockery.”

Apologies to Pinocchio.

Scenes From the Life of ‘Individual 1’

First a few highlights from the day.

Cohen testified that just before the election happened, he paid for the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who once had sex with Trump, with $130,000 out of his home equity line (so Cohen’s wife would not see the money come out of a family account).

Trump then personally repaid the hush money to Cohen, while he was president. These are violations of federal campaign finance laws for which (among other crimes) Cohen will be serving three years in federal prison starting this spring.

The president was personally implicated in that crime — a felony — by federal prosecutors as “Individual 1,” an unindicted coconspirator.

If the past is any precedent, which apparently it is not, this would be enough to entirely derail the Trump presidency.

Regarding conspiring with the Russians, Cohen was under orders from federal prosecutors not to discuss that in public (it’s reserved for today, during a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee). However, Cohen said Trump was aware of the plan to have WikiLeaks distribute damaging emails hacked from the computer network of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016.

He said that Trump was fully aware of the famous “Trump Tower meeting” on June 9, 2016, where the arrangements were made — the candidate was informed by his son, in front of Cohen. During Watergate, the question was, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Apparently, the president knew everything.

William Quigley’s portrait of Donald Trump was purchased by a straw bidder at auction for $60,000. Trump reimbursed him with funds from his charity, according to his former attorney who set up the deal, and placed the portrait at one of his resorts.

And speaking of Trump Towers, negotiations for the Moscow edition proceeded through the 2016 campaign, during the time that administration officials had numerous contacts with Russian operatives, and the Russians hacked the DNC. As Trump has said many times, that must mean “no collusion.”

Legal Threats, Bone Spurs, and the Portrait

There were some historical gems as well. Cohen said he threatened to sue or have criminally prosecuted various Trump enemies no fewer than 500 times during his 10-year tenure (this would work out to about once a week). Threatening litigation was a modus operandi of the Trump organization; now we know how often.

Cohen said he personally helped cover up how Trump deferred service in Vietnam allegedly due to having bone spurs, as “diagnosed” by a close family friend who was a podiatrist.

And Cohen said that he once arranged to have a straw bidder push up the auctioned price of a portrait of Trump, then repaid the bidder with money from the Trump family charity. Trump then kept the portrait for himself (now displayed at one of the president’s resorts; the charity has been de-registered and is under investigation by the New York State attorney general).

We are hearing all of this in the context of what we have learned from the investigation of Robert Mueller III, the Special Counsel, which has secured numerous indictments, convictions and guilty pleas of people close to the president, including his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his political consultant Roger Stone. There are more to come.

Among the most impressive guilty pleas was that of Michael Flynn, a former Marines general who was briefly the national security advisor to the president. On his second day at work, Flynn lied to top FBI agents about his contact with Russians during the campaign and the transition, which is a federal crime.

Numerous Russian individuals and organizations have been indicted for manipulating the election, something that every U.S. intelligence agency agreed happened (and which is still happening). There were more than 100 contacts between Trump campaign officials and various Russians leading up to the election, set to the tune of Trump’s ongoing praise of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Get Dr. Amp’s Golden Shit Shovel for Just $29.95

There are a lot of people who think this is no big deal. Also, many are overwhelmed by what feels like the ever-faster treadmill of American life. Many don’t have the emotional energy to muster any resistance. Yes, there is a lot to respond to and too many people are working 12 or 14 hours a day.

Planet Waves
Dr. Amp’s shiny gold shit shovel — from Twin Peaks season 3, episode 12.

Yet there’s also the blasé view that this is all just a kind of joke, or some partisan exercise. Maybe they don’t know the details (Robert Mueller is a Republican, and was named by one; all of the currently seated U.S. attorneys were named by Trump personally).

I think the greater problem is one of context. All of this is set within a world where reason, rationality, custom and tradition are crumbling. What we are experiencing is a little like having a great car with four-wheel drive and fantastic tires, stuck in three feet of mud.

Or maybe it’s 18 inches of shit — a joke from the 2017 run of Twin Peaks, wherein a psychiatrist named Dr. Jacoby sponsors his video podcast selling shovels for $29.95 so you can dig yourself out.

Last week and in many prior editions, I described how the problem is related to digital consciousness. This is insidious because we are so surrounded by it, and so dependent on it. Can you leave the house without your cell phone? I suggest you try, as an exercise.

If you are reasoning, and you have some historical context, and if you care about integrity, then you probably think this is all troubling. And the problem is that a great many people lack these faculties, or rather, they have been etched away. Based on known data demonstrating how the digital environment affects us, it’s fair to call this brain damage. Or maybe the equivalent of psychic carbon monoxide poisoning, that you don’t know is killing you until it’s too late — if you ever wake up.

We have time to wake up. We have the ability to dig ourselves out of the shit. We have the ability to make changes — but only if we want to. That is the thing.

With love,

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