In an administration best defined by its perpetual state of political crisis, this week’s conviction of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the guilty plea by Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, have taken crisis mode to a new level.
“It’s really astonishing if you think about it,” said legal analyst Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor. “You have Michael Cohen, the president’s long-time attorney and fixer going in and not just pleading to a series of federal crimes but directly implicating the president in two of them and, at almost the same moment, you have the president’s former campaign chairman being convicted of tens of millions of dollars worth of fraud.”
“This is not a great day. It’s a bad day for the president and I’m sure he understands that,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, an early Trump adopter. “But I think that we also have some perspective on the fact that there’s a long way to go here.”
Indeed. And in this age of the ADHD news cycle, not everyone is convinced that this is the political bombshell the president’s critics were waiting for in the weeks leading up to the mid-term elections.
“To be honest with you, when I look at this, in the context of looking ahead to the November mid-term is that these are cases number 25 and 26 of all the things that have happened in the past 18 months that have had no impact on the voters,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
“And the reason why I say that is that basically the pro-Trump forces and the anti-trump forces dug in at the beginning of the Trump administration and what we see is that every time some breaking news is happening that seems to implicate or affect the president, it doesn’t move the voter numbers at all.”
That may be true, but of all the times that allegations have been made against the president, this is the first time someone has pointed the finger at him in open court. And Cohen, whose case was heard by federal prosecutors in New York, was not required to cooperate further with them but might be motivated to cooperate with independent counsel Robert Mueller.
“If cooperation does work out, we know that Cohen will implicate the president in those campaign finance crimes that Cohen pled guilty to and Cohen’s lawyers have also said that he can implicate the president in the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton,” added Honig. “If he has proof to back that up, that will be enormous.”
As for the president, his “What, Me Worry” approach to the latest crisis held steady. Last night in West Virginia he mocked the special prosecutor’s efforts. “Where’s the collusion? Find some collusion!” he shouted.
And today, on Twitter, snarky tweets like this one:
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
There was a time a few months ago when Democrats were pitching impeachment as a campaign issue in the midterms. Today, comparative silence.
“The reason why it’s a loser is because the public is so disgusted with the dysfunction in government, impeachment is just one more sign of dysfunction,” added Murray, “so if you are campaigning and saying I’m going to contribute to ramping dysfunction in government, it’s not going to be a winning sell to voters.”
But if sex scandals, hush money, offshore bank accounts and secret meetings with Russians won’t get voters to the polls, there are still 76 days until election day and who knows what else can be revealed between now and then.