Michael Cohen was Trump’s fixer. He worked closely and on some of the most personal business with Donald Trump for a decade. More importantly, he is the first Trump associate who has had years of experience working and interacting with Trump who has actually testified in public. Cohen may be a convicted criminal and liar and the fixer for the boss of a racketeering enterprise, but he actually came over as credible and, most remarkably, sensible in his testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee.
In that testimony, Cohen described multiple areas of Trump’s criminal activity that covered decades. He not only gave the Committee documents but also a variety of leads to follow in order to confirm his allegations. His allegations dominated the coverage, as did Elijah Cummings’s heartfelt plea for a return to normalcy, which may have overshadowed Cohen’s closing statement in which he gave us all a stark warning of what might come. Said Cohen, “Indeed given my experience working for Mr. Trump I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”
This accusation is hardly as outlandish as it might seem, especially with what we already know about Trump. In 2016, in the run-up to the election, Trump continually declared that he would not accept the results of the election were he to lose. The Obama administration took that threat so seriously that they even put a plan in place to combat that eventuality. Even after winning the Presidency in the Electoral College, Trump claimed he only lost the popular vote because anywhere between three and five million people voted for Clinton illegally.
In addition, we have already seen that Trump is more than willing to abuse the national security process for his own political ends. The tariffs on steel and aluminum were based on a questionable use of the WTO’s national security exception. His declaration of a national emergency to build his border wall is a direct attack on the Constitution’s separation of powers and Congress’ power of the purse. The deployment of the military to the border in response to the supposed “crisis” is also of questionable legality. And yesterday we learned that Trump ordered that Jared Kushner be given the top security clearance he had been denied for a variety of reasons including the fact that he actually tried to set up a back-channel to Russia using Russian communications equipment and even the Russian embassy. In all these cases, Trump ignored warnings or overruled objections from national security professionals.
We have also seen Trump treat the Department of Justice as his own legal defense team. He has tried to order prosecutions of his opponents and fire or replace those who are investigating him. He has stated on more than one occasion that the Attorney General should be personally loyal to him and it appears he appointed Matt Whitaker solely for that reason.
Trump has a number of incentives not to engage in the peaceful transition of power should he lose the 2020 election. The broad range of financial crimes that Cohen described in his testimony will all be pursued by various US and state attorneys general. As President, Trump is insulated from prosecution based on DOJ guidelines. But the statute of limitations on many of those crimes will extend well in to the early 2020s, leaving Trump exposed to indictment and prosecution if he loses the 2020 election.
In addition, Trump and his family business is clearly gaining significant monetary gain from being President. Using his hotels and golf clubs is seen as an easy way to curry favor and gain access to the President. Foreign officials and governments also gain favor by investing in Trump Organization projects overseas. His re-election campaign funnels money to the Trump Organization in the same fashion. It appears that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, relies on his position within the administration to seek foreign deals that keep his family’s business afloat. His also reaps rewards in the form of trademarks received from foreign countries. And we have just learned that Trump will owe Scotland millions in legal fees over his failed attempt to prevent a wind farm offshore from one his golf clubs. It is no doubt easier for Scotland to try and collect that debt from a private citizens as opposed to a foreign political leader.
But, it actually might be even worse than Cohen imagines. Trump has never cracked 50% approval rating in the over two years he has been President and his only path to re-election is to ensure the 46% that originally voted for him do so again and pray, with the help of vast social media propaganda campaigns, he can squeak an Electoral College victory out again. As the investigations into Trump, Russian collusion, and the criminal enterprise he apparently ran closes is, one sure way for Trump to solidify that base is by trying to essentially “force” impeachment proceedings with the knowledge that Senate Republicans will never allow his conviction. He has already seen that his national emergency to build the border wall was supported by the vast majority of House Republicans and is veto-proof and the situation will likely be the same in the Senate. That is just a green flag for Trump to push even further power grabs and constitutional abuses, in the hopes that Democrats might finally begin impeachment proceedings.
The entire Trump presidency has been one long challenge to our constitutional principles on multiple fronts. That will only continue and perhaps increase for the next two years. So no one should be shocked if, in 2020 or earlier, Trump totally discards our constitutional order for his version of a kleptocratic autocracy as he fights for self-preservation. After all, we have been warned, warned by someone who knows him well.