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HomeU.SOpinion | Cohen, Bannon, Manafort & Giuliani Sure Ain’t Trump’s Law Firm

Opinion | Cohen, Bannon, Manafort & Giuliani Sure Ain’t Trump’s Law Firm


Have you all noticed the Republican stars and wannabes showing up at Donald Trump’s trial? Speaker Mike Johnson; Senators J.D. Vance and Rick Scott; Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota; Texas’ attorney general, Ken Paxton; the professional irritant Vivek Ramaswamy … the G.O.P. is clearly eager to show it is standing by its man.

For its part, Team Trump may just be happy to have some respectable, unindicted players on Mr. Trump’s side.

OK, Mr. Paxton doesn’t strictly meet those criteria, but you get my point. A man is known by the company he keeps. And of the many sordid ways Mr. Trump sets himself apart, his crew of henchmen is a doozy. Several have been slouching back into the limelight of late, underscoring just what kind of ethics-’n-integrity we’d get in Trump II.

Michael Cohen deserves top billing with his juicy court appearances this week, as Mr. Trump’s former fixer shared the nitty-gritty of how to keep your boss’s alleged extramarital encounters from blowing up a presidential campaign. But then there’s Steve Bannon, who just suffered another setback in his ongoing legal drama. Rudy Giuliani lost a gig. And Paul Manafort — talk about a blast from the past! — hit a snag while trying to wriggle his way back into the political arena.

Revisiting these guys and their antics is like stumbling across a hinky septic tank. You want to get clear of the stench as swiftly as possible. But it is important to stop and smell the sewage. With Mr. Trump having been out of office for a few years, it is all too easy for people to lapse into nostalgia and forget the degree to which he surrounds himself with grifters, thugs and skeezeballs.

This is hardly surprising when you consider Mr. Trump’s own moral fiber, or lack thereof. (Game recognizes game!) But voters used to judge candidates partly by the people they hired and hung around with. Mr. Trump’s ability to escape serious guilt by association, including when the associates are misbehaving explicitly at his behest or to save his backside, is among his most … impressive talents.

While pretty much every presidential team has mini-scandals and sketchy actors, Trumpworld has always felt unusually rich in this regard. These cabinet officials misusing their positions, this White House aide accused of domestic abuse, that informal adviser convicted of witness tampering, and so many people lying to law enforcement. — You really need a spreadsheet to keep track.

But even limiting ourselves to the four aforementioned minions from early Trumpworld, there is much to process.

Mr. Cohen isn’t the only one attending to serious legal matters. Last week an appeals panel upheld Mr. Bannon’s conviction for stonewalling Congress’s Jan. 6 investigation, raising the odds that he could spend a few months behind bars. This conviction should not be confused with the federal charges Mr. Bannon faced in 2020 for allegedly scamming donors who thought they were paying to build a border wall. Mr. Trump pardoned him of those charges just hours before leaving office. Mr. Bannon is still facing related state-level charges in New York — though that trial, which was set to start this month, has been postponed until September because the judge involved is busy overseeing Mr. Trump’s current trial. (So many cases, so little time.)

Also last week, Mr. Giuliani was suspended by WABC radio and had his daily talk show canceled for refusing to heed repeated warnings to stop spreading nutty election-fraud conspiracy theories. This was one of the former mayor’s last remaining sources of income, if his lawyer is to be believed. He is also under criminal indictment in both Georgia and Arizona for election-fraud related shenanigans. And a court has ordered him to pay nearly $150 million to two former Georgia election workers whose lives he ruined with his false accusations.

The least memorable of this bunch may be Mr. Manafort. After laying low for a few years, the chairman of the Trump 2016 campaign — who was convicted of financial crimes in 2018 in one federal court, pleaded guilty to even more charges in a different federal court but was eventually pardoned by Mr. Trump — was poised to re-enter the political pool as an adviser on this summer’s Republican convention. He even made a site visit to Milwaukee this month. But then pesky journalists started asking questions about his involvement, and The Washington Post reported on his recent work ties to Chinese interests, all of which prompted Mr. Manafort to reverse course.

Mr. Cohen is the lone member of this group who turned on the MAGA king, both personally and legally. But even if he is no longer welcome in the Trumpworld cesspool, he is still a slimy guy who spent years doing slimy things for an even slimier boss. Insulting, haranguing and threatening people, rigging polls, paying to suppress negative press, helping to arrange tabloid smear jobs on opponents — no task was too distasteful for Mr. Trump’s “designated thug,” as Mr. Cohen dubbed himself.

Oy. These people.

But no matter how craven or corrupt Mr. Trump’s inner circle turns out to be, millions of Americans are willing to give him a pass. And we’re not talking only about the die-hards. On Monday, The Times released new polling showing Mr. Trump running ahead of President Biden in five out of six swing states. This includes a slender three-point lead in Pennsylvania — Mr. Biden’s native state — and a 12-point advantage in Nevada among registered voters.

This is disheartening, to say the least.

In 2016, people could plausibly plead ignorance about the extent of the corruption that engulfs Mr. Trump. Most voters had never heard of characters like Mr. Cohen or Mr. Manafort. And plenty of people still thought of Mr. Giuliani as America’s Mayor. Little did we know that just a few years on, we’d be watching a thoroughly debased Rudy at a news conference in Washington, shoveling so much horsepoop about election fraud that his sweat turned brown.

Today, we know too much about what we would be getting ourselves into by putting Mr. Trump back in charge. He and his rotating rogues’ gallery should not be anywhere near the levers of power. This time, we have no excuse.



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