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Wednesday, August 22, 2018


What are we to make of yesterday’s events?  I am going to resist the natural temptation of the left-leaning public intellectual to seek some deep and of course contrarian interpretation. My personal reaction is this:  we are in a war, a long, difficult, frustrating war.  It is hard to keep my spirits up as I watch, day after day, the cruel, heartless, unjust, exploitative actions taken both by my sworn enemies and by my supposed friends.  I am eighty-four years old, and I despair of living long enough to see anything remotely resembling justice, equality, or even simple decency break out in the land of my birth, my maturity, and my old age.  So I have decided to enjoy to the full every good day with which I am blessed, and yesterday was a good day.

Two thoughts, one about the Manafort verdict, the other about the Cohen affair and the performance of Cohen’s lawyer, Lannie Davis.

The Manafort verdict was puzzling, as many TV commentators noted.  Why find Manafort guilty of one of the four charges of failing to file a foreign bank account and hang on the other three, when the evidence in all four was identical?  Why was he not found not guilty on any of the 18 charges?  I have a theory.  I think most of the jury [maybe all but one] thought Manafort was guilty on all the counts, and one [maybe a Trump loyalist?] wanted to acquit him of everything, and the jury cut an internal deal.  Notice that the charges fell into three categories and the jury found him guilty of at least one charge in each category.  We may never know the truth, but then, we may.  Sometimes juries talk.

There was a great deal of discussion this morning of the unusual fact that Cohen’s guilty plea was not accompanied by a an agreement to turn state’s evidence, even though Cohen chose, as he did not have to, to implicate Trump in his plea of guilty to the two campaign finance charges.  After the formal proceeding, Cohen’s lawyer made very public statements that his client had big info on Trump and the Trump Tower meeting and wanted to talk.  Broadcasting this, rather than saying it privately to Mueller, was, various talking heads observed, very odd.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post had a cryptic statement to the effect that Mueller does not need Cohen’s testimony.  My speculative hypothesis:  Mueller has everything he needs about that meeting without Cohen, and Cohen is desperately trying to sell a deal to Mueller to reduce his jail time.

Well, you can see where my head has been for the past eighteen hours.


Anonymous said...

If I were Cohen, I would want Trump to pardon me—in return for which I’d keep my mouth shut. This would of course enrage the Democrats, while further rousing Trump’s base, and be shrugged off by the rest of the Republicans. Mueller can’t touch Trump without massive help from the Republicans, and Mueller isn’t likely to get that. (That’s the “everything he needs”—good luck with that.) After all, they haven’t done anything to undermine Trump yet. Also, with regard to Cohen’s lawyer going public with all this: Trump is kept in the know this way, which perhaps he wouldn’t be if Cohen was talking sub rosa to Mueller. He can get the message.

Unknown said...

If Cohen is pardoned, then he either testifies or goes to jail on contempt.

MS said...

I find Michael Cohen’s behavior puzzling and enigmatic. And I don’t think it can be explained as an effort to obtain a pardon from Trump. During the plea hearing, the judge asked Cohen if he understood that if his plea is accepted, he was exposing himself to a potential sentence of many years (possibly something like 65 yrs.). Cohen, being a lawyer, obviously knew this. It seems to me that if he was hoping for a pardon, he would have dragged out the plea bargaining a lot longer, in order to demonstrate to Trump that he was resisting being flipped. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, is stating that Cohen is neither seeking, nor would he accept, a pardon from Trump, whom he regards as corrupt and a danger to the nation. Surely, this closes the door on Trump offering a pardon – why would he risk offering something that Cohen has publicly indicated he will rebuff, further embarrassing Trump. Some have opined that Cohen turned on Trump because, after Trump won the election, he was shut out of the transition planning. But even after the inauguration, he came to Trump’s defense, saying that he had paid the hush money to Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket.

Up to now, I have regarded Cohen as a sleazy, venal reprobate. Is it possible, however, that Cohen has had a Road to Damascus epiphany (yes, Cohen is Jewish; but so was Saul)? Has he, perhaps, sought spiritual counseling and genuinely, truly repents his role in advancing Trump’s business and political career? That he is sincere in his attorney’s expression of concern for the welfare of the country?

Anonymous said...

MS:I of course have no inside information and therefore no defensible idea about what Cohen and his lawyer are up to. Maybe Cohen got knocked off his horse by a deus ex machina, as you suggest, but I doubt that his lawyer did. Cohen’s new persona may indeed be enigmatic, but it’s suspicious, too. That said, stranger things have happened: Trump’s in the White House, for example.

Charles Pigden said...

I did not take Cohen's moral protestations seriously either, thinking of him simply as a rat out to save himself and to bolster his ego with a few fine phrases. But some people to all appearances do sometimes see the error of their ways and some acts of repentance do seem to be genuine. I would cite in this connection the case of John Dean.

It's not evidence either way of course but many of the pictures of Cohen remind me of a detail in Michelangelo's Last Judgement. There is one figure being pulled down to Hell by two demons with a serpent biting his leg, his face half covered by one hand and a look of horror in his eyes. Both Cohen's physical appearance and his expression remind me of this figure. (I just retrieved one of my Michelangelo art books to confirm my recollection. The figure is in the bottom right hand quarter and he has not yet reached the ground.)

I think of this figure as masculine though it may perhaps be intended to be a woman. Though Michelangelo is to my mind the greatest artistic genius ever, he totally sucks when it comes to depicting women. He was obviously a man at the extreme homoerotic end of the sexual spectrum. It's clear that from a physical point of view he could not see the point of women at all. There is one exception: the very young sculptured virgin in the St Peter's cathedral pieta. Not only does she look like a woman (or rather a girl) but a very attractive one too. The rest of them look like handsome, beefy young men with their genitals lopped off and a couple of half oranges stuck to their chests.

Anonymous said...

To: Charles Pidgen

I looked at that Michelangelo picture you referred to. I, too, see the resemblance to Cohen’s facial expression in one of the NYT pictures of him I saw today or yesterday. I think you’re right about that resemblance, it’s unheimlich, as that god-awful Heidegger would say. Uncanny indeed. But that medieval lost soul is far too muscular for a woman. Far too muscular for an ordinary male, too—though maybe he approximates that idiot phony who used to be Governor of California, Arnold Schwartzenegger, another celebrity Republican-manque. As for your generous suggestion that perhaps Cohen has seen the light—yeah, maybe, we’ll have to wait and see. My point in my comment was that I doubt that both he and his lawyer fell off their metaphorical horses on their journey to Damascus. A Pauline moment for Cohen—perhaps; but presumably he’s getting advice from a very savvy lawyer, who never falls off a horse. I still think they’re up to something. Thank you for the interesting interpretation. I think you’re wrong, but I hope you’re right. --Sol Lipsizt

Charles Pigden said...

On the Manafort verdict, it looks like Professor Wolff might be right: