Josh Marshall spells out an important underlying theme in Donald Trump’s scandal plagued administration on Talking Points Memo.
One issue I’ve touched on here and there in my posts on the Russia probe is my abiding sense that especially the younger generation of Trumpers: Kushner, Don Jr., et al. just don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the trouble they’re in, or at least the magnitude of their legal exposure. I can’t point to any one piece of evidence. It’s more like every piece of evidence. The signs I’m going on are a mix of public evidence, things we see unfolding in the newspapers, and my own reporting. They just don’t act like people who get what they’re dealing with and are acting accordingly.
The abiding sense I get is not simply that they don’t know the magnitude of the legal threat but that they don’t understanding the nature of the threat either. Again and again they seem to think the legal vulnerability can be trumped by good news cycles or getting the press to focus on some other individual. They don’t seem to get that a big, sprawling federal investigation like this, untethered from the political chain of command and led by one of the top law enforcement professionals of his generation, trundles onward with a perfect indifference to whether you win the morning or kill it in 10 or a 100 different news cycles. Those things just don’t matter. And yet my sense at least is that Jared Kushner thinks he is helping himself by knifing his brother-in-law – as though if Don Jr is at the center of a media firestorm for a few days, Mueller will just forget about him.
At a basic level, I think the key players just aren’t that smart and have a lot of hubris. They’re like low level grifters or mob soldiers who are headstrong and stupid and get chewed up when the authorities come after them. But I have a more general theory.
But the big thing that stands out to me about this set – a very small social world that Trump, his kids and the Kushners are all part of – is that they are reckless and filled with a sense of invulnerability. And why not? Trump has skidded on the edge of legality for decades. He at least worked with and took money from crooks and organized crime figures for decades. Other than having to settle a few lawsuits, he’s never paid any price.
Why is this the case? I think it’s acculturation. They’re born to invulnerability. And by and large their life experience supports that and rewards it.
New York’s business and media world is a cockpit of vipers. It’s hard to say anyone who comes out of that world is green or wet behind the ears. But Washington DC, and especially big federal criminal investigations are different. It does not prepare you for that. If you look at Trump’s own career, there’s a persistent pattern. Get into a jam and you call in the lawyers, make threats, threaten lawsuits. If someone gets in your way you bleed them for years in court. If things go bad, you settle and move on. There’s also the tabloids. They look vicious. But they can also be deeply pliant for the rich. Landing a blow by planting a nasty story in the Post is a persistent theme of Trump’s racket for decades. Being a longtime informant for the FBI solves other problems. Having a problem with a disloyal? Fire them and threaten retribution. There’s probably an NDA already in place. They can be dealt with.
Kushner, notoriously, bought The New York Observer as one of his first gambits after taking over the family business when his dad headed to the big house. But he reportedly used the paper as a tool to attack business enemies. Kushner’s interest in the Observer has always struck me as of a piece with Trump’s modus operandi with the New York tabloids.
Because of the President’s damaged personality and perrenial and chronic anger it can seem like he’s different, that he gets the magnitude of the situation. I don’t think he does. Every reverse is because he’s being treated unfairly or let down by Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon or now his loyalist lawyer Marc Kasowitz. The problems won’t go away because his staff can’t stop the leaks. In a situation like this there aren’t a lot of people you can effectively buy or destroy. This is a legal world that Trump has very little experience with.
A big federal investigation like this is like a broad lava flow. It moves slowly but it is unstoppable. It burns and crushes things in its wake. And things too big or unburnable it just covers over. The little antics and PR gambits mainly do not matter. Key players in this mix don’t seem to appreciate that.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center
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