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It’s no coincidence that Trump is surrounded by criminals

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Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
AP Photo/Mary
Altaffer



  • Several of President Donald Trump’s close associates
    have now been convicted of crimes, and many more have engaged
    in corrupt activity in office.
  • Why did the president who planned to hire “the best
    people” end up surrounded by moochers, grifters and
    criminals?
  • Because working for Trump is horrible and
    unfulfilling — unless you plan to use the job as an
    opportunity to stuff everything you can in your
    pockets.
  • We haven’t seen the last of the indictments.

President Donald Trump said he would hire “the best people.” So
why did he hire so many criminals, moochers, grifters and crooks?

Consider his inner circle. There are the literal felons: His
former campaign manager (Paul Manafort), his former deputy
campaign manager (Rick Gates), his former national security
adviser (Michael Flynn), his former personal lawyer: All now
convicted of felonies. One of them, former lawyer Michael Cohen,
said he committed two of those
felonies because the president told him to
.

Then, there are the moochers and grifters who haven’t yet been
charged with anything. Some of these people are, or have been, in
the Cabinet: former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, former EPA
Administrator Scott Pruitt, HUD Secretary
Ben Carson.

Their abusive behavior in office — whether
having taxpayers pay for private jet flights
trying
to use the office to squeeze a franchise out of the Chick-fil-A
corporation
, or
using official events to benefit a relative’s business
— has
frequently flirted with the boundary of corruption and comedy.

There is Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, who continued to
hold personal investments in violations of his agreements to
divest them — and, in other cases, met
technical divestment requirements by moving assets into a trust
that benefits his relatives
— while making policy decisions
relevant to those investments.

For example, his trust held interests in a major maker of auto
parts at the same time Ross was entrusted with the task of
recommending auto parts tariff policies to the president. In one
instance, Ross sold a Russian shipping company’s stock short

when he knew Forbes was working on a story
about his improper
financial interest that could be damaging to the firm.

And then there are Trump’s two first supporters in Congress:
Reps. Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, now both indicted on
accusations of boneheadedly obvious financial crimes.

Collins stands
very credibly accused of insider trading
, for having dumped
the stock of a pharmaceutical company on whose board he sits —
after he learned the company’s main drug had failed clinical
trials but before that failure was announced to the public.

You’re not supposed to do that. That’s very illegal.

Hunter is accused of illegally using campaign funds to support
his personal lifestyle. Among many other personal expenses,
prosecutors say his campaign paid for a trip to a casino, paid
the bill when he took his mom out for Mother’s Day (twice), and
paid for Hunter’s “Hawaii shorts,” which Hunter’s wife (and
co-defendant) instructed
him to buy at a golf pro shop
so they could disguise the
expense as “balls for the wounded warriors.”

Hunter’s wife is accused of having the campaign pay a $700 dental
bill and then claiming the money was for a charitable
contribution.

What do all of these people have in common, besides their
association with Trump? Greed and recklessness.

Trump is drawn to a personality type, and that type is drawn to
him

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Grab ’em by the pussy.”

It’s a misogynistic statement and an admission of sexual assault.
It is also a claim of impunity: I can do this thing I want and I
will get away with it.

In a sense, Trump was right: He never got indicted for improperly
touching a woman, he never even faced significant negative press
about it until the tape happened to be released a decade after it
was made, and he still got elected president.

This expectation of impunity has informed the president’s
behavior in a wide variety of areas. It is also how he has come
to be surrounded by crooks.

Most of the more normal people who would have staffed a
Republican administration have stayed away from this particular
president. In some cases, that’s because they find him morally
repulsive. In other cases, it might be because they do not want
to work in a place where they cannot trust anyone, and where an
ignorant and capricious president is likely to undermine their
policy initiatives on a whim.

Work with or around Trump is likely to be extremely unpleasant —
unless your objective is to stuff whatever you can into your
pockets while you are there, and then you might think Trump’s
combination of no ethics and no supervision will work to your
advantage.

This is the tip of the iceberg

Remember, Collins’ indictment reads like a World’s Dumbest
Criminals script
.

Over and over again, the actually indicted Trump associates’
alleged misdeeds (and in some cases, convicted misdeeds) have
followed a theme: Acts so reckless, they must have been confident
nobody was looking.

For crimes that took place before the election, like Manafort’s,
maybe the cavalier attitude came from a correct assumption that
white-collar crimes would go unnoticed and not prosecuted as long
as they did not draw the scrutiny that comes with being
associated with a president.

For crimes after the election, like the insider trading scheme
Collins is alleged to have hatched on the White House
lawn
, maybe the assumption was that Trump would exert
effective political control over the Justice Department and save
his friends from going to jail.

In each case, the confidence was misplaced. Oops.

But think of all the crimes that aren’t quite so obvious, that we
haven’t learned about yet. Do you really think Trump’s only
criminal associates are the ones who have been indicted so far?

The system is working — because Trump failed to build an
all-crony government

It is a testament to our criminal justice institutions that all
of these prosecutions of the president’s associates have been
conducted by people the president could, technically, have fired.

The investigation into Cohen wasn’t even conducted by the special
counsel — it was run by the office of the US Attorney for
the Southern District of New York, an office led by Trump’s
hand-picked appointee, whom Democrats were fretting just a year
ago had been improperly personally interviewed by the president
before his appointment.

“There’s no reason for President Trump to be meeting with
candidates for these positions, which create the appearance that
he may be trying to influence or elicit inappropriate commitments
from potential U.S. attorneys,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein

told Politico last October

 regarding
Trump’s interview of now-US Attorney Jeffrey Berman.

And she’s right that his interview created an improper
appearance. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped
Berman’s office from ordering a highly unusual raid on the
president’s lawyer’s office, and then securing a plea deal with
significant jail time — and a direct implication of the
president in a scheme to violate campaign finance laws —
just four months later.

Despite the president’s ranting and raving and wailing on
Twitter, and despite his dismissal of the FBI director, the
Justice Department appears to be doing approximately what it
ought to be doing regarding the president and his
associates.

This fact owes a lot to strong norms within the department
that preserve the political autonomy of prosecutorial offices.
And it owes a lot to a handful of personnel choices Trump has
made — and then publicly regretted making — about
leadership at the Justice Department.

Say what you will about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but
he appears to be motivated by a set of sincere ideological
convictions about immigration and crime and civil rights, not by
a desire to use his office to obtain a used mattress from the Trump
Hotel
.

Sessions’ deputy, Rod Rosenstein, is enough of a
garden-variety Republican that when George W. Bush nominated him
to an appellate judgeship, Maryland’s Democratic senators blocked
his confirmation.

There is enough non-corrupt staff at the Department of
Justice that the president can’t shield his cronies from
prosecution with a few firings. This is a lesson he learned after
he fired James Comey — it created a big mess and it didn’t even
work.

Trump has not left Robert Mueller in place for a year and a
half out of a respect for prosecutorial norms. It’s because he
knows firing him would do more harm than good.

Trump’s administration is a den of thieves. But he failed
to appoint the thieves to a few key positions — and that has
made a lot of difference.

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