No Chips Left to Barter: Cohen, Trump, and Running out the Clock - by Greer Clem
It's pretty unusual for the President's lawyer to need a lawyer... to potentially need a lawyer. The Michael Cohen situation is not only a Russian nesting doll of potential lawbreaking, it's causing Trump to further call for an "us vs. them" mentality in Washington. Beginning when Trump asked Comey if he could expect his loyalty, Trump has demonstrated that he works on a quid pro quo basis; he won't give you anything unless he can expect something in return. The raid yesterday on Michael Cohen's office by the FBI is pushing Trump to the breaking point, meaning that today's America is even more partisan than it was before.
Trump, in an outburst following news of the Cohen raid, railed against his Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation in the first place. He also complained that he wished Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had not approved the search warrant given to the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York and said that he may have to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. These outbursts are very Trumpish and frankly not unexpected. But with less and less people in the White House who supposedly have the capacity to reign him in, who is left to babysit Trump? I mean that question in all seriousness. Childish and irritable though he may be, Trump is still the person who has to decide within the next twenty four hours whether or not he wants to take military action against Syria. He has a diplomatic meeting with North Korea on the horizon. The stock market continues to plummet, the congressional budget deficit is billowing, and we've got newly imposed Russian sanctions to work through. And those are just a few of the problems Trump isn't blatantly ignoring, such as election interference, police violence, protecting Dreamers, etc. So at the end of a day like yesterday, you've got an enraged, incompetent man-child who could potentially be called into the situation room at any moment. My question is this: what happens when there is no one left to be the quo to Trump's quid? What happens when no one wants anything from him anymore?
I'm not saying that Trump's operating system is logical or in any way good for the country, but it does seem that keeping up the illusion that Trump has something to offer is what has staved off a complete meltdown before. Perhaps more importantly, if Trump feels that there is no one left to negotiate with, will he devote himself singularly to dismantling our political institutions? Mueller is a Republican appointed under Bush and Sessions is a far-right conservative who appointed both Rosenstein and the US attorney for the Southern District. Nonetheless, Trump views them all as traitors. We are once again reminded that party means nothing to him; he doesn't care if you're a Republican or Democrat so long as you have something you can give him. Members of the GOP who praise him as the head of the party know this, but they believe they are in on the joke. They think they will just use him and toss him aside in another two years. Trump's voters, however, haven't yet figured this out. They think Trump's brashness is innovation, that he is a doer and not a thinker. The problem is he doesn't think through anything he does. And when the dust settles and Trump has no value, nothing left to offer the people he considers allies, what will remain of our institutions? Trump has used positions of legal importance as bartering chips for allegiance, but when that's all gone and the trade show is over will our institutions still be able to stand?
If Trump goes on full attack against the Justice Department and intelligence communities, I have to hope that his voters will not follow. I have to hope that the pillars of our government are strong enough to withstand cracks without crumbling. There are good and honest people in our government, people who may appear to have no value to Trump but in fact have the most because they cannot be used as bartering chips. The day will come when Trump will be abandoned by those he considered indebted to him, when he will have no one left to turn to or fire. And it's our job, those of us who believe in the sanctity of law and the integrity of our government, to stronghold our institutions until that day comes.