Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Federal prosecutors bagged two swamp monsters on Tuesday, and the slime is oozing toward President Trump.
The culture of corruption that has enveloped Trump for years, in his serial bankruptcies and shady dealings and scandals like Trump University, now has a criminal quality affirmed in two federal courts. This is what Trump does, this is the company he keeps, and these are the practices now closing in on him.
Nobody outside Trump’s family is closer to him than Michael Cohen, who affirmed in the Southern District of New York that he made illegal campaign contributions “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump (according to court papers, Cohen implicated, possibly, a second person involved in the campaign).
Cohen spent more than a decade in Trump’s employ as a self-described “fixer” who used tough talk to bully the boss’s critics and opponents. (He tried this with me while I was writing a book about Trump, so I know how he operated.)
Now he is admitting that he conspired with the President to break the law. He seems destined to serve prison time for the offenses.
With his plea arrangement, Cohen implicates Trump in the scheme to pay off porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, to prevent them from damaging the Trump campaign with revelations of their alleged sexual affairs with the candidate.
Remarkably, Cohen did not get special consideration for cooperating with federal authorities, which suggests he threw Trump under the proverbial bus voluntarily, supporting his recent statement about putting country first.
The other swamp creature who became a felon Tuesday was Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman during the critical period when Trump wrapped up the 2016 nomination. A federal jury agreed he was guilty on eight counts related to schemes to conceal income and avoid taxes. Much of the money involved came from Ukrainian political figures who favored Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whose government sought to influence the American election in Trump’s favor.
Until this moment, Trump has played a game of flipping-the-script with the American people, promising he would rid national politics of the unseemly power players voters abhor. “Drain the swamp” was the phrase Trump used over and over. Instead his campaign turned out to be the most fetid operation in recent political history.
Besides Manafort and Cohen, who were major figures in the campaign, Trump relied on two other convicted criminals, security adviser General Michael Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Both men have admitted to lying to investigators looking into possible cooperation between Trump allies and the Russians, and await sentencing.
As commentators and political partisans sift through the Manafort jury decision and Cohen’s deal with the court in New York, they will spin what they find to serve their perspectives. Trump defenders will say that Manafort’s crimes were committed before the campaign and thus, have nothing to do with the President. Cohen presents a bigger challenge, since he has said Trump was involved in his wrongdoing. But have no doubt: great effort will be invested in somehow explaining away what he says.
If he holds true to form, the impulsive President will be so enraged, and so incapable of restraint, that he will go after Cohen on Twitter. Expect him to make up some awful name about the man he once counted as his most trusted employee. Of course, nothing the President says will change the fact that the fixer who ran into a problem he couldn’t finesse is trying to do the right thing now.
Manafort, unlike Cohen, has defied federal prosecutors and may, in fact, be counting on a presidential pardon. Trump certainly signaled how he felt about his guy with tweets about how unfairly he has been treated. This type of meddling, unheard of where Presidents are concerned, is the essence of the swamp. Trump already has the stink of it on him and it’s not going to go away.