Trump's Jerry Springer administration
Another day in Trump's America, another 24 hours of getting our faces ground into the filth at the tippy-top of the nation's political elite.
Remarkably, the last two Trump scandals have proved to have some staying power in the national press. The first is the Rob Porter scandal, in which the former White House staff secretary was credibly accused of violent abuse by both his ex-wives. The second is the Stormy Daniels scandal, in which the porn star was paid $130,000 just before the election to allegedly keep quiet about having had an affair with Trump back in 2006.
And now President Trump's henchman Michael Cohen has basically confirmed the Daniels story, announcing that he arranged the payment himself. It's just one more example of how brazen, tawdry corruption is the signature feature of this administration.
Cohen didn't detail exactly how it happened, but it fits with the original Wall Street Journal report saying that he had set up a shell corporation in Delaware with the sole purpose of passing the hush money to Daniels. As Paul Waldman points out, there is a very strong possibility this payment was a severe violation of campaign finance laws:
If Cohen made the payment and Trump reimbursed him, they might have had to report that payment, like all payments candidates make to their campaigns. Trump might try to claim that it had nothing to do with the campaign and was a private matter, but that might not pass the smell test, given that it happened just weeks before the election. But if Cohen paid the $130,000 out of his pocket … then that would mean he may have made an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign. He obviously wants to protect Trump, but in doing so he may be implicating himself. [The Washington Post]
Meanwhile, the Porter scandal has legs, I suspect, due to the sheer brazenness of the apathy shown by top administration officials and Trump himself. The White House was apparently repeatedly informed about the alleged abuse, and did nothing — on the contrary, Porter was up for a big promotion before the story broke. And when it came out, they initially defended Porter before pictures were released showing deep bruising on the face of one of his ex-wives.
Remember that this scandal is just one of many. There is Trump and his family reportedly using the presidency to enrich themselves and obtain favors from foreign governments, the multiple top-level officials who have used government money for lavish plane flights and other perks, the alleged insider trading, and more. And that, in turn, shouldn't obscure the dozens of scandals and scams that took place before Trump ever took office.
Now the White House is desperately trying to lie through their teeth and stall in the hope that the next scandal buries attention on the Porter one — but unfortunately for Trump, the latest development has merely put the Daniels story back on the front pages. Hilariously, by admitting to the payment it seems Cohen has broken the non-disclosure agreement, leading Daniels to conclude that she can speak openly about the 2006 affair.
This is a well-worn cliché by now, but one can't help imagining what this endless parade of Jerry Springer-style sins would be like in any other presidential administration. Bill Clinton had one scandal that was about a tenth as bad as any one of Trump's (which is to say, it was very bad), and the resulting impeachment drive consumed half his second term. Sean Hannity's eyes would have popped out of his sockets in rage if Obama had paid secret hush money to anyone, let alone a porn star.
But that's just the kind of people running this administration: amoral thugs and wannabe gangsters — if not actual ones. Trump has been associated with various forms of organized crime on numerous occasions, from the Mafia in his early real estate days to Eastern European criminals and oligarchs later.
As Josh Marshall points out, that's especially true of Cohen, Trump's top personal lieutenant and fixer. He's the guy who is alternately comically slavish in sucking up to Trump and violently angry in threatening people who might somehow damage his boss — like the Daily Beast reporters who wrote a story about Trump's alleged sexual assault of his ex-wife Ivana Trump. Is it any wonder the administration appears stacked from top to bottom with abusers, bag men, cover-up artists, grifters, and sundry other human scum?
Perhaps this time, we can try to maintain focus on these two big scandals, and let them simply represent the broader ocean of Trump's filth and corruption.