The Pardoner’s Tale
Scooter Libby, an adviser to former Co-President Dick Cheney, can rest easy now that Donald Trump has lifted his cloak of infamy. Libby is no longer a felon, convicted of lying to federal investigators about his outing of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. President George Bush II commuted the sentence but refused to pardon him. I disagreed with many of Bush’s values, but at least he had some. Disclosing the identify of an American spy is wrong. Libby did it to protect his boss, for which he got a slap on the wrist. Bush would not remove the taint.
Now comes before us Donald Trump, future ex-President of the United States. In his first year in office he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sadistic xenophobe who incarcerated and tortured undocumented immigrants. A federal court held him in criminal contempt for his miscarriages of justice. Enter Donald Trump. With a wave of the executive baton, he exonerated Sheriff Joe. This pardon sent a message: Illegal measures taken to rid America of illegal immigrants are no crime. They are acts of heroism.
Trump’s pardon of Libby last week sent another message: I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Trump loyalists facing charges or guilty pleas for lying to the FBI need not fear the power of the Deep State. The magic wand of the Shallow State will release them.
The pardon was issued at a fortuitous time, as the Mueller investigation was sending its case against Michael Cohen, the President’s own Ray Donovan, to the US Southern District, James Comey’s old stomping grounds. Many of the career prosecutors in that office were outraged by the Comey firing. They signed a letter to the Deputy Attorney General, petitioning for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate Trump’s involvement. The NY attorneys and FBI agents have now been presented with the opportunity to vindicate Comey themselves. How’s that karma thing working for you, Mr. President?
Right out of the box, the government agents obtained a warrant to seize Michael Cohen’s belongings, which they did. Cohen’s lawyers petitioned the court to restrain the government from reviewing the records. Judge Kimba Wood, an unsuccessful Clinton era nominee for Attorney General (see Nanny-Gate), turned down the request. The Cohen motion backfired, with Cohen’s lawyer coughing up the name of Sean Hannity as client no. 3 in Cohen’s portfolio. Hannity places third behind Trump and Eliott Broidy, whom Cohen extracted from a sex scandal of his own. He’s currently under investigation for a bundle of white collar crimes.
Pulling Hannity’s name out of this pie was a plum for the media, Fox excepted, and possibly for the government investigators as well. Hannity has been something of an off-campus Chief of Staff for Trump and his loyalest media supporters. Clearly, Hannity wouldn’t have gone to Cohen for a house closing or a new will. Something sleazy that way lies. We’ll know soon enough.
Coming Home to Roost
While all of this is bad news for the part-time occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there is possibly worse news. Now that Trump’s road show has gone on tour, it’s a new ballgame, especially in New York, where it can play in two locations. There will be federal charges against Cohen for sure. But there also may be state charges against Cohen and possibly Hannity. Once the production opens in New York’s criminal courts, the rules change dramatically.
Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr. didn’t have the grit to take on the Trump family when they and their Russian partners raked investors in the Trump Soho. He hasn’t’t shown the grit to bring many high profile cases. He’s not the kind of tough-minded, big city prosecutor New Yorkers expect. In fact, Vance accepted a $50,000 campaign contribution from a Trump lawyer after he dropped charges against Ivanka and Don Jr. for defrauding Trump Soho investors. He’s timid, and he’s been bought.
Still, Vance won’t have to do much. If the feds send over some state-based charges against Cohen, if may be enough to rattle Trump’s teapot. The Presidential pardon power does not reach state charges or state prosecutions. The smart money says that the Cohen files are full of material on state-based schemes to tie him and at least two of this three clients up.
A well-founded state claim against Cohen especially or a number of other acolytes is Kryptonite for the Trumps. There are several contingencies in this scenario. It’s not hard to see one of them falling into line.
Without the protection of a pardon, Cohen is as good as under the bus. If Cohen is forced to plead out his case and turn government witness, he will do it. By now, he has seen that in Trumpland, loyalty is a one-way street. He’s not bailing Cohen out. Let’s say, though, that Cohen fixed something for Jared and Ivanka. Trump just might fall on his sword for Ivanka.