It's fun to mock Michael Cohen's threats to former Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak.
Sam Seder, Michael Brooks and Alex Pareene did a good job of it on The Majority Report show Friday. "Not only is he not intimidating, he has the weirdest diction!"
But listening to this recording really disturbed me. Threats work for Trump. Intimidation works. Threats are part of Trump's business model. They are a key component of his negotiations. Winners and losers are determined by who has the upper hand when it comes to threats. The person who can threaten others most successfully wins.
After listening to Cohen and reading the article closely. I wondered:
1) Who else was intimidated?
2) Who else was paid off?
3) What types of intimidation were used?
4) Were there threats of violence?
5) How many of these threats were at Trump's direction? What words did he actually use? What was his tone of voice?
6) How much did Trump know about the implementation of the threats after they were carried out?"
Remember the Donald Trump rape lawsuit right before the election that went away? The accuser claimed he raped her when she was 13 back in 1994.
Reading the story at the time I remember thinking, "Who and what convinced her to drop the case?"
In the NPR Story Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide, defends Cohen.
"People like to paint him as some kind of a thug out of New York. He's an attorney and he knows what he's talking about," said Caputo. "And I think while he might push the bounds of propriety in some people's eyes ... Michael sees the line and doesn't cross it. "
Really? How do we know he didn't cross "the line?" Whose definition of "the line" are we using here? Caputo's?
We know that Cohen used "arrogance and bullying and threats and intimidation."
Avenatti described how Cohen pressured Daniels into signing a document. Avenatti alleged in a March court filing that as news stories about the NDA were beginning to emerge in January, Cohen "through intimidation and coercive tactics, forced [Daniels] into signing a false statement" denying a previous sexual relationship with Trump.
Sam Nunberg, a political adviser close to Trump says Trump cultivated an aggressive environment and that Cohen "was supposed to say and act the way Donald wanted him to act." ("Sounds like Nunberg is setting up the "I vas just following orders." defense.)
Powerful people get away with criminal acts by avoiding evidence of their connection to those criminal acts. We have all watched enough police procedurals to know to say things like, "Don't tell me how you did it. I don't want to know."
In the world of politics the old phrase, "plausible deniability" is used to protect the top guy. What if the top guy can't deny something based on hard evidence?
Smart, powerful people don't put anything incriminating in writing, especially details of ordering an illegal act. They don't want to know the details of an illegal act they order. They talk in code because they know they are involved in illegal acts. When Tony Soprano asks Silvio, "Did you take care of the thing with that girl from the place?" he does that because he knows he is being recorded by the Feds. He doesn't think that Silvio, his consigliere, would be recording him.
But what evidence do we have that Trump is smart? What does he actual say to others to carry out his vindictiveness? What words does he use? He will be direct, not subtle. Do we give him the interpretation HE wants, or one based on a history, context and actions?
When Cohen got caught retweeting a comment about Megyn Kelly from “surfersfortrump” that said, “#boycottmegynkelly @realDonaldTrump we can gut her.” Cohen didn't apologize,
“I didn’t and don’t believe that the tweet implied physical violence against Ms. Kelly,” Cohen added in a follow-up statement to POLITICO. “I do not condone violence against anyone, male or female.”
It's different when law enforcement gets evidence that a subject knew about the threats and even suggested them. The general public heard previous Trump threats, someone acted on them with physical violence. Normal people can tell the difference between a joke and a threat. With the law, specific threats, to a person, mean something different than a comment in a speech.
People with a history of getting away with threats don't back down, they keep working the problem. Here is what Trump is doing now to control the damage to himself.
1) Granting pardons. "I will make that illegal thing you did go away. Trust me."
2) Focusing on what are normal legal threats. "It was just saber rattling. It's a bluff, just part of negotiation for deals."
3) Redefine normal. "These threats are standard business practice. It's no big deal. Everybody does it. They do it to me all the time!"
4) Play the Joker card. "I say a lot of outrageous things. I'm joking! I don't expect people to do exactly what I say. Comeon! I won't hurt a fly! I don't condone violence!"
5) Blame the other guy. "Hey if he broke the law that's on him!"
6) Play the victim card. "This is a unfair! It's a witch hunt. I'm the victim here!"
Threats Work In Multiple Ways
Some people think they wouldn't be intimidated by a Michael Cohen. They have the truth, the law and God on their side. Great. Good for you, but threats scare the crap out of me. Legal threats, financial threats, threats against employment, threats against my family and their employment, vague future threats and physical threats. I'm easily intimidated. I don't have money for lawyers, bodyguards and a PR response team. Most people don't. Trump knows this. He counts on others following the norms, so he doesn't have too.
Trump has a long history of screwing people over financially. "Don't like how I forced you to cut your price by 30 percent? Sue me!" But how else might he want to hurt people?
Did Trump tell Cohen to have someone hurt? Killed?
What lines didn't Cohen cross for Trump? Did Trump order lines to be crossed?
Let's say, hypothetically, that we hear Trump ordering intimidation, legal threats, coercion and maybe physical violence. What next?
- Expect there will be scores of people who will work to define legality, intention and the definition of specific words and phrases. Alan Dershowitz will be quoted a lot.
- Watch for lots of non-related whataboutisms "Well Obama ordered the bombing of... "
- The media will do the "both sides do it" and include allegations and lies about Democratic candidates actions. "The Clinton campaign and George Soros hired thugs to...
- There will be acceptance and ADMIRATION for illegal acts. Especially ones that didn't lead to prison time. This may be surprising to some people but this kind of talk is one of the things the base LIKES about Trump. They mock the left for not knowing how to do it.
"Business people play hardball like this all the time. This is just the cost of doing business."
And of course their all time favorite distraction line, "But the Clintons...
The mainstream media give him cover. In the political spokespeople business it's called "getting a second bite at the apple." They confronted the person with the audio clip and let them explain. "What I meant to say was..." And since he is not under oath for a journalist, he can't get busted for perjury. But when talking to prosecutors it's different.
Remember this from Cedar Rapids Iowa on Feb 1, 2016?
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out
of them, would you? Seriously,” Trump said. “Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 15, 2016
George Stephanopoulos gave Trump another bite of the apple and Trump denied he said that “No, because I don’t condone violence and I didn’t say I was going to pay for the fees,” When shown the video he denied reality was allowed to redefine his words. The mainstream let him. With the law it's different.
Multiple people keep helping Trump get out of the corner he has painted himself into. The rich and powerful have multiple tools to avoid getting caught and punished. If they can't avoid getting caught, they work to reset the expectations of what is normal and acceptable. Here is where we can help.
So what's the counter to this? What can you do?
- Reject the normalization of intimidation tactics in business and politics
- Demand that illegal acts be prosecuted now! ( Don't wait until mid-terms and the replacement of complicit Republicans. Put the Republicans on the defensive NOW for accepting illegal acts.
- Start losing your mind when terrible things happen. Stop saying, 'If a Democrat did this..."
Laws need to be fixed, repealed or recreated. Things that were illegal before and are legal now, can be made illegal again. Start talking about what those law are and WHY they are necessary NOW.
Why people do things matter. I don't like to just focus on legality, since sometimes people break laws for noble reasons. Sometimes people say and do things for the good of their country, their family or their beliefs. Some even break laws that we generally agree with. There are important, understandable reasons or noble purposes for breaking some laws. When laws are broken consequences need to be accepted. Reasonable people understand this.
Some crises bring out the best in people. Others bring out the worst.
When the country hears Trump ordering retaliation for his own selfish reasons we need a response. We know how the media and the Republicans will respond. We know how Trump will respond.
Trump has reached the end of his weaseling out of things tricks. it's time to throw him an anchor, not a lifeline.
I wrote this June 1, 2018 4:30 PDT. With time traveling it's not good to reveal too much too soon. So I try to be either one hour early, 24 hours early or 6 days early with my "predictions." so people can put them in context when they happen. Also, I get a cookie from Karoli when I'm right.