by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
An outstanding a cappella group, Take 6, once had a tune called “So Much 2 Say.”
The tune lasted only one minute. It was fast, it was up-tempo. The harmony and their back-and-forth between each other was almost breathtaking. Now, in 2019, the news is coming at us at a blistering pace almost like the song. There is no time for us to digest what just happened before something else pops up. I will try to distill the important news of the month for you in this column.
I know that this is a bizarre way to start, but bear with me. I just finished a fascinating book by Andrew McCabe, former interim director of the FBI, called The Threat, in which he describes how he became involved in the Hillary Clinton email case. I remember the media frenzy that surrounded Hillary Clinton’s emails at the time. Do you?
Remember that the email “case” came out of the Benghazi investigation. Yes, Benghazi. Republicans asked the FBI to look into Secretary of State Clinton’s emails because the State Department had no cache of emails for Hillary Clinton. This is because Hillary Clinton decided she was going to use a private email server.
Although she has admitted that this was a mistake, I am not sure it was. Hillary Clinton knew that every single one of her emails sent from a government account could be retrieved by Republicans. This means that every single word, every period, every phrase could be inspected. Please remember, we are not talking about a rational review of what she did or said: Hillary knew that was not possible. She knew that a jaundiced, partisan eye would overlook everything she did (and she was right!). (Additionally, the State Department’s email server was hacked during her tenure; but her private home-based server never was: it was more secure than the State Department’s!)
At any rate, the House asked the FBI to look at Hillary Clinton’s emails. Through a very laborious process, the FBI retrieved all her emails from all the computers and servers she used. The overall number was approximately 60,000 emails. The FBI then sorted all 60,000 into private emails and work emails.
It appears from my reading that the FBI and Hillary Clinton’s team agreed on which emails were work emails and which were personal. The 30,000 work emails were sent on to the State Department; the other 30,000 were given back to Hillary Clinton, and they were destroyed. These are the 30,000 emails that Trump and others have been screaming about for years now. Guys, this is nuts!! No American citizen should have to undergo this kind of scrutiny. No one. Ever.
Donald Trump, at the last minute and in a hurried, unprepared fashion, decided to hold another summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un. The first question that a thoughtful American should ask is, Why would the American president want to meet with a North Korean dictator? Well, the possible answer would be to denuclearize North Korea. In theory, we, the American people, would give North Korea something—investment, lifting of sanctions, a formal peace treaty—and we would get disarmament of North Korea in return. This would be normal diplomacy.
But “normal” does not apply to Donald Trump. Normally, the State Department would hold preliminary meetings with their counterparts in North Korea. Groundwork would be laid. First, by lower-level specialists in economics, military issues, and human rights; then higher-level deputies; finally, the secretary or minister level. Only after all the parameters of the deal were put in place and agreed to would the president get involved.
In Donald Trump’s administration, normality is a thing of the past. Like a bull in a china shop he decided to trudge forward. In spite of the pomp and circumstance, the smiling for the cameras, and the warm handshake, we, the American people, got nothing. Donald Trump left the summit with nothing. He looked like Charlie Brown who just had Lucy’s football pulled away at the last minute. Again. Rats!
This was nothing more than a colossal diversion and waste of taxpayer money. And to top it off, after he came home, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to give Kim a gift his country—and China—had only dreamed of: the decision not to resume joint military exercises that have kept South Korea safe from North Korean aggression for 60 years. (It now appears that North Korea is rebuilding that key missile facility that was torn down several months ago as a gesture of good faith. Will someone let the grownups back in the room?)
The Main Event
It is really hard to take in all that Michael Cohen said in three days of testimony before Congress. First of all, we know that Michael Cohen is a liar. We also know that his back is against the wall: he is going to jail. So, in order to shorten his prison sentence, it would behoove him to cooperate with authorities and the tell the truth in front of Congress. I will focus on three areas of his testimony—Trump Tower Moscow, WikiLeaks, and Stormy Daniels.
First, Michael Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about the timing of his talks with Moscow regarding a Trump Tower Moscow. From my standpoint, Donald Trump has always looked like a man who was constantly after money. He was looking at making several hundred million dollars if he was able to pull off Trump Tower Moscow. Therefore, it is no surprise to me that he continued to try to work the deal while he was running for president. He never really thought he was going to win the White House. Therefore, why not try and make an extra hundred million or so.
The thing about this line of questioning that is surprising is that Donald Trump blatantly lied to the American people on multiple occasions about his dealings with Moscow. Not that it’s really a surprise. We all know that Trump lies.
Second, Michael Cohen told the House Committee he was in the office with Donald Trump when Roger Stone was on speakerphone to discuss the upcoming WikiLeaks dump of Democratic campaign advisor John Podesta’s hacked emails. It is unclear whether this can actually be proven. Even if Roger Stone recalls this conversation with crystal clarity, it is still unclear to me whether Donald Trump can be held legally responsible. I don’t think that this is a smoking gun.
The other problem with this is that Roger Stone seems to be someone who always brags about knowing more than he does, and who would gladly lie to gain favor with Trump. We also know that Roger Stone seemed to be working through intermediaries to try to get to WikiLeaks. This may be all hogwash.
Now this what I thought was significant. Michael Cohen laid out the plan to pay porn star Stormy Daniels, in which Trump was directly involved in the planning and execution. Basically, Michael Cohen took out money from his home equity line of credit and paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Donald Trump and the Trump organization then reimbursed Mr. Cohen with 11 payments of $35,000 each.
At first, this did not make sense to me. But if you can try to hide these payments as actually paying for legal fees, this starts to make sense. This reimburses Mr. Cohen his $130,000 plus any fees that may have gone with his using his equity on his house. It allows Cohen to pay taxes on the money that he is making. And it gives Cohen a $60,000 bonus for being a hard-working consigliere. All and all, this looks pretty slick. Hidden. Clean and illegal!!! This is a clear violation of campaign finance law.
Finally, I guess the take-home message from the Cohen testimony is that Donald Trump is exactly who we thought he was. He is a bombastic, not terribly bright egomaniac. He is a racist. He is a sexist. He is a master manipulator. Andrew McCabe paints Trump as a boorish ogre who is poorly prepared for meetings and has a loose relationship with the truth. And above all, Michael Cohen describes his former boss, Donald Trump, as a liar.
By now, we already know that Donald Trump is a liar. The Washington Post has counted 9,000 lies and “misstatements” during his two years in office, and WaPo is trying to be fair. He will lie about anything. It really doesn’t matter if the subject is big or small. He will lie about the size of his crowds. He will lie about meetings and conversations with world leaders. He will lie about national emergencies. It doesn’t matter. Trump will lie.
I really, really want to respect the president, but the president has to be a person who is worthy of my, our, respect. Sadly, Donald Trump is proving that he is not worthy of the office to which he was elected.