It’s not exactly breaking news that another accomplice of US President Donald J Trump has been found guilty and is contemplating at jail time. This is something, alas, that has been occurring from time to time for a while.
This time around it’s a relatively low-level if colourful minion, Roger J Stone. Stone now waits for sentencing to join our esteemed president’s other pals in the slammer.
To date, the folks already doing time include Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his lawyer and factotum (read thug and enforcer) Michael Cohen. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and deputy campaign adviser Rick Gates are awaiting sentencing to determine the period during which they, too, will enjoy the state’s hospitality.
The number of scandals and hijinks have led to a bizarre phenomenon here that analysts call “scandal fatigue.” You can almost feel the collective, exasperated, shrug of the public, and you cannot avoid the sorry conclusion that a lot of people are exhausting their capacity for outrage.
Now let me be clear. It isn’t as if the office of the US presidency has always been as pure as the driven snow. From the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s during the administration of president Warren Harding, which forced a cabinet member to go to jail for bribery, to the recent past when the Watergate scandal forced president Richard Nixon to resign and the Monica Lewinsky scandal got president Bill Clinton impeached, scandals have rocked the US presidency from time to time.
But all those scandals pale when compared to what’s going on today.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of select jailbird/felons who have graced the Trump campaign/administration, starting with Cohen, the latest Trump associate to get convicted.
Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and adviser: Relatively small fry, but nonetheless a close Trump confidante. “For decades, Roger J Stone Jr played politics as a kind of performance art, starring himself as a professional lord of mischief…,” The New York Times reported. “He tossed bombs and spun tales from the political periphery with no real reckoning, burnishing a reputation as a dirty trickster.”
Stone was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry of Trump, lying to investigators and trying to block the testimony of a witness. Charges carry a maximum prison term of 50 years, though he will likely get a much lighter sentence.
Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager: A sleazy hustler who seems to have walked right out of the pages of a cheap paperback potboiler. Before joining Trump’s campaign, career highlights include lobbying for such international scoundrels as Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi. Later, he got involved with disgraced Ukrainian leaders and oligarchs and made obscene sums of money while he was at it, with a lifestyle to match. (He was partial to expensive mansions and sartorial flourishes like a USD 15,000 ostrich-skin jacket and a USD 18,500 python-skin jacket.) Currently a guest of Uncle Sam for over seven years after being convicted of tax evasion, bank fraud and witness tampering.
Michael Cohen, former Trump lawyer and fixer: Career highlights include making hush payments in 2016 to porn star “Stormy Daniels” (actual name Stephanie Clifford) to protect Trump during the presidential campaign. Earlier in 2014, threatened reporter Tim Mak of The Daily Beast following questions about rape allegations by former Trump wife Ivana Trump (she later recanted).
Subtlety is not Cohen’s strong suit. He reportedly told Mak: “Tread very (expletive) lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be (expletive) disgusting.”
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. Currently serving a three-year term in prison, where, we are informed, he is having a whale of a time giving legal advice (he has been disbarred) to fellow inmates and regaling them with stories about Trump.
Michael T Flynn, former National Security Adviser: Pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about speaking to the Russian ambassador. Awaiting prison sentence.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy in the Trump campaign:Pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to the FBI. Awaiting prison sentence.
There is almost certainly more to come.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s so-called personal lawyer: Up to his neck in dodgy stuff. The former New York mayor, once a national hero following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, has aged about as well as a slab of butter turned rancid. Loud, brash, and a bit of a loose cannon, his latest antics are at the centre of the impeachment inquiry in Congress. There is strong evidence suggesting he is pursuing a domestic political agenda on behalf of Trump in Ukraine.
“Federal prosecutors … are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine,” The New York Times reported.
“The investigators are examining Mr Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L Yovanovitch.”
Two of Giuliani’s Ukrainian-born associates were arrested on campaign finance-related charges at an airport right before they were leaving for Vienna with one-way tickets. Reports said they have underworld connections in Ukraine.
You can’t make this stuff up.
While America’s judicial and governmental infrastructure deserve some credit for exercising checks and balances on an administration gone awry, one can’t help worrying that the coarsening and sometimes outright criminalisation of governance has likely caused long-term damage that we are going to rue for a long time to come.
Ashfaque Swapan is a contributing editor for Siliconeer, a digital daily for South Asians in the United States.