The morning dawned quiet … too quiet. Or maybe just quiet enough, because for several hours at the start of Wednesday, Donald Trump’s Twitter account lay unused. But finally, hours after the normal start of “executive time,” Trump pulled the blankets from his head and picked up his phone.
Since then, Trump has made more tweets with two themes: Michael Cohen bad, Paul Manafort good. Trump dismissed the charges against Manafort as “a 12 year old tax case.” His tweets have lauded Manafort as a “brave man” who “unlike Michael Cohen … refused to break.” Trump has also expressed his sympathy for Paul Manafort and “his wonderful family.”
Trump could not be more clearly floating the idea of pardoning Manafort if that float was decorated in roses and driven through Pasadena.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to demean Cohen and also to downplay the charges—particularly the campaign finance charges—to which Cohen entered a guilty plea. Bizarrely, Trump stated Cohen “plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime.” Which is … kind of amazing. Because if Cohen was in front of a judge pleading guilty on those charges, it’s pretty clear that a federal court considered them a crime.
But the idea that the campaign finance violations, in which Cohen directly implicated Trump by saying under oath that the actions were taken at Trump’s direction, are no big deal is obviously the new official talking point for the right. Showing that he was still in sync with his evening phone chat buddy Sean Hannity, Trump went on to claim that “President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”
But the Obama campaign issue was a much smaller, more technical violation—the Obama campaign missed a 48-hour window for reporting some large donations, but did go on to report the donations. The result was a large fine. Barack Obama was in no way connected to the violation, and he certainty wasn’t the driving force behind a conspiracy to cover up a violation that went on for months. Like Donald Trump.
It’s clear that the scheme from the right will be to attempt to compare the two violations on dollar value—Trump only gave Daniels $130,000, but Obama’s campaign “covered up” $1.8 million. Except the Obama campaign didn’t cover up anything. All those contributions were reported, just not within the 48 hour window required by the FEC.
Trump directed and authorized the violation personally and directly. Obama did not. Trump denied the violation repeatedly. Obama did not. The Obama violation was strictly a technical accounting issue, which the FEC in any case took very seriously and levied a large fine. Trump hasn’t yet dealt with his violations, because he has been denying and covering up these very non-technical, personally directed violations.
But the direction of Trump’s morning tweets makes the first pass at “How do we get out of this mess” clear. Dismiss the implications of Cohen’s plea as no big deal.
And Trump will also lionize Manafort. That’s important for more reasons that just to remind everyone that Trump can, has, and will, wield his pardon wand for those who keep their mouths shut. It’s because those charges against Manafort, the charges that Trump waves off as “a 12 year old tax case” really, really worry Trump.