We are stuck in our own dilemmas, focused on the challenges `in the next few months, but in the meantime, dramatic things happen in the rest of the world. One of the most politically important developments in the last few years, especially since Donald Trump assumed the presidency in the United States, happened on Thursday. Within minutes, two former closest associates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, were convicted by federal courts, in separate proceedings for serious law violations, some of which are directly related to their work for Trump. Now there is a huge flood of questions about what this means for the presidency, what are the options for Trump and for Robert Miller (the prosecutor who prosecutes these cases), whether Trump can pardon Manafort and Cohen, whether or not he is being charged, whether impeachment is possible, and even if theoretically, Trump would be brought into a situation to think of pardoning himself.
I think that these processes are interesting to follow, mostly in terms of comparing how a functional democracy systemically corresponds to the usurpation of power, authoritarianism, and irresponsibility. I agree that today is probably the hardest day for the Trump administration, if not the hardest day in his life, as Norman Eisen tweeted, Obama’s former Special Counsel for Ethics. The verdicts of Paul Manafort, who has been convicted of part of the tax evasion charges while working for several Russian and Ukrainian clients, including Viktor Yanukovych, faces a serious imprisonment of 80 years, and trials for his work with Trump still do not we have started. Michael Cohen, known as Trump’s fixer, pleaded guilty and cut a deal with the prosecution, where he explicitly stated that, following Trump’s orders, he paid money to porn actresses to keep them silent about their activities related to the president.
The main question is how this is going to affect Trump’s presidency. First, these verdicts, both brought in within not more than a few minutes, signify a clear turn in the tide of charges against the president and moving towards a strong support for prosecutor Miller. So far, Trump’s supporters, including the president himself, have classified such and similar processes as “witch hunting” and there was public pressure to stop these investigations. However, verdicts give serious legitimacy not only in this process, but also in the whole overall investigation into Russian interference in the US elections (which was the basis for these charges), so that such and similar processes should be intensified. Second, the question of criminal accountability is raised by the president itself. Namely, so far, his national security advisor, personal attorney, head of the campaign, deputy head of the campaign, as well as foreign policy assistant – have all pleaded guilty or were sentenced of serious crimes related to their work for him.
The question posed by Cohen’s lawyer (who’s relationship with Trump is not so good now) is corrent: if paying out those women is a crime for Cohen, then it is also a crime for the one who ordered it, meaning Trump. This is only a prelude to new insights, since Cohen himself announced that he wanted to share new information with the Special Prosecutor. Therefore, Trump can face additional criminal problems. Thirdly, this probably means a serious blow to his support in Congress – not only his stubborn supporters acknowledged the severity of these judgments, but some of them (Trump’s greatest supporters) are themselves under investigation, such as Duncan and Margaret Hunter, and Chris Collins. This threatens to tear down Trump’s support in the Congress, as well as Republicans’ support ahead of the upcoming November election.
It remains unclear how this will affect personally Trump. Firstly, he can, as he has done several times before, pardon both Cohen and Manafort. However, now that the tsunami has turned, this is likely to directly lead to an impeachment procedure, especially with such reduced political support. Then, most interestingly, is it possible that an incumbent president may be charged with a crime? Trump’s lawyer and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani says this is impossible, but that if it happened, Trump could also pardon himself.
In any case, the encirclement of the reaction of democratic forces in the US society is tightening around Trump. It seems that the most powerful man in the world has a lot to be afraid of. It is an interesting comparison to the events in our country. The president over there seems to be even more vulnerable to smaller charges (like covering his entertainment girls), than the president in our country, who seems to be protected even if he has violated the constitution. Then, the speed with which the system reacts to violations is also interesting – we are still listening to the so-called ‘bombs’, and over there they already have verdicts. And finally, prosecutors over there are actively fighting against a president who is in power, and in our country the government cannot manage to quickly win the charges against the current opposition. These differences are an indication of the general health of democracy, both here and in the United States.
Therefore, the message for those who predicted a collapse under Trump’s administration is that the backbone of a functioning society is difficult to break with just one transgression, and for those here who immediately expected changes: we have resolved the symptoms, but not the disease.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik