Tapes and Flippers: History Repeats Itself

Manafort and Cohen

I just watched the movie, “I, Tonya,” the story of Tonya Harding, centered around her abusive relationships with her mother and husband, and of course, the sensational attack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

To this day, it remains unclear whether or not Tonya was a co-conspirator in the attack on Kerrigan, a woman who Tonya claims was a friend of hers. According to the movie, her husband, who has largely been blamed for the incident, didn’t even know about it.

In the end, Tonya’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, was sentenced to two years in prison and had to pay a $100,000 fine for racketeering. Several other co-conspirators were convicted, but Gillooly’s sentence was the worst. Even Tonya, who actually plead guilty, didn’t serve jail time, but was instead banned from ever competing in figure skating again. For life.

According to the movie, Tonya and her husband were innocent.

Gillooly was implicated when his friend, Shawn Eckardt, told the FBI that he was behind the attack, even though Gillooly never intended for physical harm to come to Kerrigan. The movie implies that Gillooly wanted to inflict some kind of psychological warfare on Kerrigan to get in her head before she performed – and nothing more. Still, there was a paper trail that lead right back to him.

Tonya also told the authorities that Gillooly was guilty, even though she really didn’t know for certain. She was acting on a gut instinct.

Tonya knew nothing of the attack on Kerrigan.

Allegedly.

The world may never know what really happened, why, who was involved, or who knew what when, but it’s amazing what a few testimonies and a paper trail can lead to.

And here we are. On Tuesday, President Trump’s former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen, flipped and testified under oath claiming that he was directed by now-President Trump to use campaign funds to pay off women ahead of the November 2016 presidential election.

The President of the United States has been implicated as a co-conspirator in a felony.

On the same day, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted on eight out of 18 charges in crimes involving bank and tax fraud. Of the ten remaining charges, one solitary juror would not convict Manafort, so the judge declared a mistrial.

Pow-Pow!

Trump’s Response

Trump’s response to this? He wants to “outlaw” flipping, which is problematic for several reasons. First of all, it’s a ridiculous statement to make. You can’t outlaw something involving human nature.

Second, Trump was actually referring to the practice of offering a lesser sentence or immunity to those who offer information to law enforcement officials regarding crimes committed, as he claims that people will be inclined to make up false stories and vilify someone else in an effort to save themselves. That’s not an outlandish claim, but it does ignore the fact that people aren’t convicted of crimes based on he-said-she-said. It’s about what can be proven in court. That’s why we have a justice system. No, it isn’t perfect, and no, it doesn’t always work the way we want it to, but we still have to operate within its parameters. When Cohen calls out Donald Trump as a co-conspirator, he’s pointing prosecutors in Trump’s direction. From there, Cohen’s claims are further investigated. If they can be proven, in a perfect system, Trump is convicted of the crime.

So, when Trump says we should outlaw flipping, what he’s really saying is that we should withhold information from the justice system in an effort to remain loyal to parties whom we may or may not have conspired with. In other words, he’s advocating for obstruction of justice.

In Manafort’s case, Trump sent out tweets of sympathy and praise, which has lead people to believe that he is considering pardoning Manafort. Trump could have been throwing the possibility of a pardon out there to sway Manafort against flipping. However, according to his legal counsel, he has been advised not to do so, at least not right now. Who knew that bad timing and optics were a thing?

Either way, even if Trump pardons Manafort at the federal level, he is still susceptible to a jail sentence for his crimes at the state level.

Side note, he also said that the economy would collapse if he got impeached…

“No collusion.”

When critics and Trump supporters claim that there is still no collusion, it’s a little baffling. Perhaps an argument can be made that there was no proven Russian collusion, but the term “collusion” does not exclusively refer to collusion with a foreign government.

Also, for those still claiming that the Mueller probe is a waste of time and a “witch hunt,” Manafort’s guilty sentence and Cohen’s testimony are the direct results of the investigation conducted by Mueller and his team. I suppose the argument here is that the links back to Trump are not specific enough, but as we learned with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly, that paper trail will get you. It’s just a matter of time.

Also, keep in mind that whatever breaking headline news we get from the news media, Mueller’s already been there, done that – months ago.

The Watergate Scandal

Let’s look at Watergate, which until now, was one of the craziest scandals to rock a US presidency. The similarities are astonishing, but where they vary is where it gets really frightening.

The Watergate scandal, for those of you who are less familiar, involved Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Nixon wanted desperately to win, but just a win wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to win big. He wanted to win in a landslide victory, by the biggest margin the nation had ever seen in a presidential election.

And he did.

However, how he achieved those election results became the subject of national intrigue and to this day, the source of conspiracy theories surrounding questions that still remain unanswered over 40 years later.

When burglars broke into the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the Watergate Hotel, it became known that they were working on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election campaign. They bugged the place, presumably in an effort to spy on the DNC’s opposition campaign tactics.

Long story short – what brought down the Nixon presidency? Tapes and flippers.

And people doing their jobs.

The Watergate scandal resulted in several convictions on charges of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping, but most infamously, it led to the impeachment and ultimate resignation of President Nixon.

Impeachment

Let’s have a quick word on impeachment, because it’s one of those words we hear a lot but may not actually know what it means. It does not mean removing a president from office. Impeachment is simply a charge of misconduct against a civil officer of the federal government.

The way it works is the House of Representatives determines whether or not the officer has enough dirt on him to warrant impeachment. If he does, they draft up the articles of impeachment which outline the charges against the officer. The House votes on the articles, and once they achieve a majority vote, the articles head over to the Senate. The Senate then takes the officer to court, and at the end of the trial, they vote on each individual article. A guilty verdict requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, at which point the officer can be removed from office.

In the case of President Clinton, he was impeached by the House on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, but was acquitted by the Senate (with a Democratic majority). With President Nixon, the impeachment process was underway, but Nixon resigned from office before its completion.

What Went Right with Watergate

I’d mentioned that part of what brought down Nixon was people doing their jobs.

This is evident at several stages of the Watergate investigation. For one, John Dean, Nixon’s legal counsel who was hired to essentially manage the coverage related to the Watergate scandal, testified before the Senate investigative committee, divulging his knowledge on Nixon’s involvement in the scandal and its subsequent cover-up. Dean was asked to resign.

One notable question that came up during Dean’s hearing was asked by Republican Senator Howard Baker –

“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Sound familiar?

At another point, Nixon had asked his Chief of Staff to ask CIA Director Richard Helms to halt the FBI probe into the burglary.

Helms refused, so as not to be complicit in the obstruction of justice.

Then Nixon wanted to fire his special prosecutor, Archibald Cox (Nixon’s Robert Mueller), but when he ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to do it, he and his deputy refused and resigned. The Solicitor General then carried out the order. This is commonly known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

With Cox gone, the House threatened Nixon with impeachment if he didn’t turn over the tapes that had previously been subpoenaed by Cox. Once the House had the tapes, they drafted up the articles of impeachment and voted on them with a 410 majority. Nixon was impeached on charges of obstruction of justice, contempt of Congress, and abuse of power.

Before the Senate concluded the trial, Nixon resigned from office. The question remains –

Would the Senate have removed Nixon from office had he not resigned?

We’ll never know, but between Dean, Helms, Baker, Richardson, Cox, and the entire House of Representatives, there were several checks on Nixon’s misconduct. The tapes, that Nixon recorded himself, didn’t help, either.

History Repeats Itself

We hear this all the time. When I was younger, it never made sense to me how people would make the same mistakes that someone else made years earlier. It’s the whole “learn from others’ mistakes, not your own” idea.

But if they say why? Why? Tell ‘em that it’s human nature.

Seriously, that’s it. Just because you watch your friend go through a rough patch doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t also go through your own version of one, making the same questionable decisions you watched her make and suffering the same consequences.

In 2018, we see a lot of similarities between Trump and Nixon, namely his obsession with big gains, the heavy emphasis he places on loyalty, and the paranoia that consumes him, specifically regarding the way he’s portrayed in the media.

The big difference between the two scenarios is Congress.

Trump’s case already has tapes (Omarosa’s got a tape for everything and everyone, apparently) and flippers, with more people coming forward ready to cooperate with the Mueller investigation every day (notably, David Pecker of the National Inquirer, Allen Weisselberg of Trump Org, and White House counsel Don McGahn).

However, even with evidence piling up, enough already to merit the House strongly and seriously considering articles of impeachment, can we count on our Representatives and Senators to do their due diligence, despite party lines?

The scariest part of this whole ordeal is not whether or not the parties involved are guilty or innocent. It’s about whether or not our institutions work, if they’re as foolproof and fail-safe as we think they are, and if they were actually built to be iron-clad and impenetrable, even (or especially) when there is corruption at every level.

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