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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Trump will offer immunity to protect himself, but it won’t work

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Manic panic is setting in on the Potomac. Early in the morning, President Trump’s lawyers called the Mueller team, according to NBC News, and even though the Justice Department has refused to give immunity to any witnesses, the team is now talking about granting some. Maybe even some.

That is according to NBC’s Mark Potter, who got this information from a source at the Justice Department who said “It’s not out of the question that immunity could be sought, or given.” Even though there is no agreement to that effect yet, you can bet it is being discussed. Maybe it’s because Sean Hannity and Fox News are now saying as much, or because Breitbart and Laura Ingraham might suddenly appear in the White House garden, their radios tuned in to the Stewpots.

But in the meantime, there’s the jail story, maybe the most riveting of the week. Trump lawyers floated a Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton — and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort sitting right next to him on the other side of a platter — as some sort of victory lap. I said this in Sunday’s column, and it just makes more sense now.

On Thursday morning, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the president of the United States is an unindicted co-conspirator, meaning the sitting president cannot cut a secret deal that would help him avoid jail time. That’s when Cohen announced on Fox News that he was going to plead guilty to campaign finance violations, but he wouldn’t talk about other legal trouble he might be having. Then on Thursday afternoon, CBS News reported that Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney who replaced Robert Mueller as special counsel in New York, is going to testify against the president in the House committee hearing he’s about to begin the second half of. And a Fox News analyst, who had urged Trump to fire Mueller, reported that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified before Congress he would be fired if Trump fired him.

And then there’s Michael Cohen, a nihilistic partner in crime with Trump for six years of a false-flag scheme to hide everything that he did for his billionaire client — a failed real estate fraud, many possible international business violations, lying to Congress and donors, being a paid attorney to a former candidate for the White House.

When I read a Time magazine profile of Cohen in 2008, it seemed like an utterly pathetic one-man collection of sadism. One of the things that stuck with me was a visit he made to “Angie’s Place,” an inn that had been popular with celebrities over the years. There were a lot of celebrity addicts. It was here that Marlon Brando had even met his mistress.

Back then, he had a kind of bookish sadness about him. I got the impression that he worked without getting paid, that he was another muscle on the tapestry of Trump. I never saw him do any work. Once, it was almost eerie — he came so late to my dinner party. It’s clear he didn’t have to work; Trump created the job for him. He’s been milking it ever since.

I learned something else when I wrote this column in late August. Many people I knew, including some who are friends, said they thought it was time to start betting on Trump’s trial, starting with his resignation. I agree — and I think Mueller would like to pressure Trump into a resignation, if possible.

It’s a bit like the movie “To Catch a Thief,” with Cary Grant’s Richard Hannay, a well-read Londoner, finding his passion in a cushy scheme to solve a bank robbery. He always thought he would do well on TV. He has been proven right. But in that movie, the museum protectionist is sainted by the world. The successful robber, toiling his entire life to make money for his homeless father, is cast aside.

Cohen, for his part, is not holy and pure. He is not punished for telling the truth. He is repugnant. But it would be a good idea to cut him a deal on whatever legal problems he has, not to obstruct justice, but to help Mueller to stop obstruction of justice. If not now, then when? If not maybe, then when? Mueller can’t make him go to jail and the nation won’t know if he did it. But the same doesn’t apply to us.

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