I'm a Bachelor of Science.
231 stories
·
35 followers

Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Stormy? The Michael Cohen Story

2 Shares

As you may have seen last night, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s purported longtime personal lawyer, conceded that he did pay adult actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 election. But there’s a catch. It was his money! Or so Cohen says. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed him. “I am Mr. Trump’s longtime special counsel and I have proudly served in that role for more than a decade,” said Cohen in a statement released yesterday. “In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump … Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

As some have noted, the statement makes no mention of Donald Trump personally reimbursing Cohen out of his own pocket. You also have this weird phrasing of using his funds to “facilitate a payment.” (Cohen refused to answer any questions beyond the prepared statement.) There’s also no mention of when Cohen was promoted to the ridiculous new title of “special counsel.” The key point of the statement appears to be to keep the payment out of the Federal Election Commission’s purview. It may be a scandal regardless. But it’s not clear there’s any legal problem or that it’s anyone’s business as long as it’s not tied to regulated campaign spending. Regardless of all that, it may surprise you to learn that I find it entirely plausible that Cohen covered this payment himself and was not reimbursed in any way that is legally definable or forensically traceable.

What you have to understand is that Michael Cohen is not the President’s lawyer and never has been – not in any sense most people would understand the term and not in any way that is real. Michael Cohen lies through his teeth like most people breathe. So it’s entirely possible that Trump or various other entities later reimbursed Cohen. But as someone who’s done a lot of research into Cohen and his decade-plus relationship with Donald Trump, I will say again: picking up this charge himself is entirely plausible.

Going on three years ago when I first started seeing Cohen on TV defending Trump, I figured he was just Trump’s punk lawyer. Especially his TV lawyer, the guy who goes on TV to talk shit on Trump’s behalf. He’s definitely that in a sense. But that really gives an incomplete sense of who the guy is. You may be thinking: Maybe Trump can cut checks for 6-figure payoffs but not his lawyer. Not so. On his own, Cohen is a very, very wealthy man. Scale of his wealth? Just one example. Two and a half years ago he bought an apartment building on the Upper East Side for $58 million. That’s just one of his holdings. Cohen grew up on Long Island. But from his teenage years, he was immersed in New York’s Russian and Ukrainian immigrant community and had personal or family ties to people with ties to organized crime.

Cohen has a nominal law degree. But I’ve seen very little evidence he ever practiced law in any real sense, either for Trump or at any point in his career. What Cohen was was a businessman, in a number of businesses favored by the Russian/Ukrainian emigre community and where large sums of cash can be moved, often over borders, into cash-intensive businesses: taxis, casino boats, and real estate.

Cohen came to Trump’s attention in the first years of the century because he was buying up large numbers of units in Trump properties, for himself, his family, his Ukrainian immigrant in-laws. He made himself handy by helping to quell a shareholder revolt in one building. Trump saw that Cohen was a conduit for money from Russia and Ukraine. And Cohen wanted to be helpful. That’s how and why Trump brought Cohen into the Trump Organization.

I don’t doubt that Cohen, who has a law license, made ample use lawyer-client privilege. But in the sense people think of, he was never Trump’s lawyer. Not even in the Tom Hagen sense in which he sometimes presents himself. He worked on business deals. But mostly he took care of problems for Trump and served as a conduit for money. While that was happening, Cohen continued to build his own real estate mini-empire from his perch at the Trump Organization, working with his original sources of money and pull and adding the resources of the Trump Organization to enable him to operate on a larger scale. (I go deeper into various of the wild details in this post from a year ago.)

That was the essence of the relationship. Cohen brought in money and connections. He also made big money under the Trump Organization umbrella – not only by whatever he made from Trump directly but far more from the deals he was doing on his own operating in Trump’s orbit. One key part of the arrangement though was total loyalty and maximal expressions of loyalty, making messes go away. You can see this in how Cohen talks about his relationship with Trump and the mix of aggressive bullying and lavish toadying he shows when he discusses Trump on TV.

Explaining his relationship to Trump to ABC News Cohen said: “It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit. If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” As he said in his statement on the Stormy Daniels payment, “I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

In 2015 when the Daily Beast unearthed records of Ivana Trump accusing Trump of raping her in a maniacal rage over a botched scalp reduction surgery, Cohen issued a series of threats against the reporters if they published their story: “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me? You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.”

Doing conspicuous favors and fixing things is in the nature of this bizarrely public toady-chieftain relationship. Read through Cohen’s interviews. You’ll find it’s replete with mixes of mafia tough guy talk and zany levels of conspicuous self-abnegation. It’s all theater at some level. But I think to a great degree it’s genuine. It’s the guy’s identity, like the way a top captain thinks about the mob boss he serves. Who will rid me of this meddlesome Stormy? Did I mention that Cohen and Trump’s mafia business partner Felix Sater were childhood friends long before they both ended up as top Trump business partners right around the same time? Well, that’s true too. In the scale of money both Trump and Cohen operate at, covering the $130,000 payment himself seems entirely plausible as something Cohen would do as part of the larger relationship. He probably did get paid back some way or another. But I think it’s totally plausible he didn’t. He’d love to be that guy who made the problem go away. Doing Trump a solid like that would be something he’d happily do. It’s the basis of their relationship. He’d get paid back in other ways.

Read the whole story
benzado
4 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
Share this story
Delete

Star TrekArt by Gustavo Viselner || IG

1 Share


Star Trek

Art by Gustavo Viselner || IG

Read the whole story
benzado
4 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
Share this story
Delete

Beating hearts

1 Share

I wrote this on this day in 2014 on Facebook.

There's a chain of beating hearts connecting back in time from you to a fish that crawled onto land, one of your many ancestors (assuming you believe in evolution, I guess).

Actually, even if you don't believe. :-)

Except for you, maybe, they were all women.

Read the whole story
benzado
6 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
Share this story
Delete

Back in the day, people complained about Microsoft, but I marveled that Windows ...

1 Share
Back in the day, people complained about Microsoft, but I marveled that Windows NT and XP could run the outlining software I shipped in 1984. For all I know the version of Windows they ship today still can. I don't know why they did it, but I respect that they did. And for all the evil that Microsoft heaped on the web in the early days, how they tried to cut off its air supply, and turn it into a feature of Office, deep inside there was still the heart of responsible developer. That's universal, it isn't something that becoming the biggest baddest mofo on the planet absolves you of. You still have a heart, and your shit still stinks, and you're still going to die. So let's try, all of us, to leave something behind. If we keep destroying our archives, none of the good we do can last.
Read the whole story
benzado
6 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
kazriko
6 days ago
(BTW, Many VB6 apps that work in Windows XP no longer work in vista/7/8/10...)
benzado
5 days ago
Somebody (Joel Spolsky) wrote a great blog post about a big leadership change at Microsoft that decided it was more important to punish misbehaving developers/programs than preserve compatibility. The result was Vista, and users HATED it, because, as expected, they blamed Microsoft and not the buggy programs.
kazriko
5 days ago
It wasn't necessarily even the developer's fault that the programs didn't work. There were often OCX files that microsoft distributed to developers that would fail on vista because they were poorly written.
benzado
5 days ago
Yes, I only meant that the developers are at fault from Microsoft's perspective. :-)
Share this story
Delete

Trumpism Is Modern Republicanism

1 Share

Generally speaking, I figure I can make common cause with any conservative who opposes Donald Trump. Jonah Goldberg, for example, might believe that the best way to fix Social Security is to let Monsanto grind up old people and manufacture Soylent Green for sale to North Korea. Whatever. We can argue that out later. For now, recognizing the danger of Trump is good enough.

And yet…there is more to Trump than just Trump himself. Here is Goldberg today on some of the reasons for the cult of Trump:

One is the tribal belief that the other party is an existential enemy that will do anything. And so we must be just as ruthless….The dynamic only gets worse with each election. The party out of power convinces itself that obstruction — or now “resistance” — is the only option.

….The result is that the party in power races to get its agenda accomplished and the base forgives any abuses or violations of norms in the process, thus proving the worst suspicions of the opposition. Liberals roll their eyes at the claim that President Obama violated democratic norms or abused his power. But putting aside the specific arguments, conservatives saw plenty of abuses and violations, from the IRS scandals and Benghazi to the Iran deal. Obama said many times he couldn’t unilaterally implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program because he wasn’t a “king.” Then he did it anyway.

Yeah, OK, except that we really can’t put aside the specific arguments here. We know now that the IRS “scandal” was a minor screwup that affected both parties, and certainly had nothing to do with Obama anyway. Benghazi was a tragedy, but not a scandal in any reasonable sense of the word. The Iran deal was…the Iran deal. And getting new legal advice on DACA is hardly some unprecedented norm violation. It’s up to the courts to decide if an executive order is legal, and so far no court has even taken up the question of DACA, let alone ruled against it.

I’m not trying to paint Democrats as boy scouts here, but I am trying to make the point that Republicans have not just gone down Goldberg’s road of tribalism, they’ve roared off the edge of the tribalism cliff at a hundred miles an hour with flags flying. If their obsession with corrupt, America-hating Democrats hadn’t existed in the first place, Trump never could have won the GOP nomination. There’s a reason, after all, that Republicans nominated a guy like Trump in 2016 while Democrats nominated a mainsteam party lifer like Hillary Clinton.

Criticizing Trump is relatively easy. But purging the country of Trumpism means purging the Republican Party of the lunatic wing that truly believes liberalism means the end of America as we know it. This means more than just refusing to give it oxygen. It means no longer tolerating it. It means no longer indulging in Benghazi or the IRS or Solyndra or any of the other faux scandals, even though they’re a lot of fun. And it means calling out conservatives who do indulge in lunacy. That means Hannity. It means Glenn Beck back when he mattered. It means Rush Limbaugh. It means Steve King and Devin Nunes. It means Fox & Friends. It means evangelical leaders.

You can ask the same of Democrats, of course, but only if you recognize that this is fundamentally a Republican epidemic, and that’s where emergency measures are needed first.

Read the whole story
benzado
9 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
Share this story
Delete

No, the IRS Did Not Target Conservatives for Persecution

1 Share

I didn’t see this when it came out, but over at Townhall Guy Benson takes me to task for claiming last year that the IRS “scandal” was not an Obama administration effort to harass tea party groups. Rather, it was a general bureaucratic clusterfuck that targeted both liberal and conservative organizations. Benson links to a post I wrote about the final inspector general audit report on the topic, but faults me for not referring to the first IG report in that post. That’s fair enough, actually, and I should have done it in the first place. So here’s a chart from the first Treasury audit:

Sure enough, the only groups mentioned are conservative. Why is that? Well, as we’ve all known for years, it’s because Republicans asked for the report and specifically told the inspector general to look only for a few select names. That’s why we have 96 conservative outfits and nothing more. Everything else is lumped under “other”—and presumably even doing that went beyond the IG’s remit.

And just what is that “other”? Here’s a PowerPoint slide from an IRS training presentation explaining what kinds of names might be cause for suspicion that an organization is political, not educational, and therefore doesn’t qualify for tax-exempt status:

Note the elephant and the donkey in the top left. Needless to say, Democrats were a wee bit suspicious about this, so they asked for an audit using a new set of keywords. Years later, this one identified 181 additional groups that had been identified by their names, 146 of which were eventually audited. This brings us to the post I wrote last year. Here’s the chart I created based on data in the Treasury audit released last September:

Between the two reports, then, the IG identified 115 conservative groups (96 in the first audit, 19 in the second) and 110 liberal groups. Does this sound like a liberal conspiracy to sic the IRS on conservative groups? No it does not.

Now, you can produce different numbers depending on which parts of various reports you cherry pick. As you might expect, the Republican section of a 2015 congressional report insists that conservatives were unfairly targeted, and it was a lot more than 115 groups. Democrats disagreed. That’s how last year’s IG audit came about.

Conservatives can blather all they want, and I don’t expect any of this to have the slightest effect on their religious faith that the IRS under Obama targeted tea party groups for audits. They’re going to believe this forever. But the bulk of the actual evidence suggests that (a) the IRS adopted a program of identifying political organizations based on their names, (b) this was probably not a great idea, and (c) it was nonetheless a nonpartisan effort. The IRS officials involved were just trying to create a way to more efficiently ID groups that might not qualify for tax-exempt status because they were political, not educational. There’s simply no evidence that there was a partisan valence to any of it.

Read the whole story
benzado
9 days ago
reply
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories