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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The ongoing made-for-TV spectacle of the Trump administration has more shocks and plot reverses than the most elaborate professional wrestling extravaganza. The endless parade of louche, comic-opera figures out of New York tabloids—Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, The Mooch!—keeps millions of Americans awake nights wondering what absurdities Trump will bring us next.

And that’s not to mention Sean Hannity, Judge Pirro, and the rest of the gang down at Manhattan-based Fox News. Considered purely as showmen, the 19th century impresario P.T. Barnum had nothing on Donald J. Trump.

That said, exactly how the Trump Show will end is impossible to predict. Only that it will be shocking and unsettling when it happens. Suffice it to say that President Trump seems unlikely to exit the White House under anything resembling normal conditions.

 But here’s something that’s almost certain not to happen: President Trump will never testify under oath in the Russia investigation. Ace counsel Rudy Giuliani is surely right about that. Under anything resembling normal circumstances, no attorney capable of passing the bar exam would let a client like Trump testify. He’s an epically bad liar.

That seems to have been the purpose of the 49 questions leaked to the press, almost certainly by Trump’s own legal team after they crafted them following a meeting with Special Counsel Mueller. That is, to persuade the president himself that being grilled by an experienced prosecutor is nothing like doing a call-in on Fox & Friends. (Although Trump’s last appearance there left his hosts ashen-faced and eager to cut him off.)

Writing in The New Yorker, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin cites just two examples: “’What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?’ one asks. ‘What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?’ another asks. For Trump, there are no good—that is, non-incriminating—answers to these questions.” 

 Indeed, there are not. Only Trump, thanks to the credulous cult of personality surrounding him, could think he could get away with firing the FBI director and then inviting his Russian comrades into the White House to gloat about it. Both the fact of the Oval Office visit and Trump’s boast appeared first in Moscow news media. The White House press corps hadn’t been informed—suspicious in itself.

In comparison, try to imagine the uproar if, say, Hillary Clinton had been credibly accused of forging a letter boasting perfect health and then twisting her doctor’s arm to sign it. Her political career would have ended within 48 hours. Ditto Al Gore, John Kerry or any Democratic presidential candidate.

But thanks to his fact-resistant political base, Trump operates under a different dispensation. Or has done, at least until Americans started focusing upon the oft-broadcast image of Stormy Daniels’ prodigious bust emerging from a chauffeured limo, immediately followed by the actress herself.

Remarkably, Rudy Giuliani’s confused accounts of where Trump fixer Michael Cohen found the cash to pay for Stormy’s temporary silence have induced doubts among even faithful Trumpists.

See, if they follow nothing else, people follow sex scandals.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani if Cohen controlled a slush fund to pay off other naughty girls?

“I have no knowledge of that. But I — I — I — would think if it was necessary, yes.”

Seriously, Giuliani said that. On national TV.

Here’s an editorial comment from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Trump is compiling a record that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis—say, a dispute over speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller or a nuclear showdown with Kim Jong Un. Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says.”

Murdoch, of course, also controls Fox News.

 But enough Stormy. Back to the ticklish question of Trump’s testimony in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Rudy claims that the president can claim executive privilege and refuse to answer a subpoena, but nobody’s ever done it. When Richard Nixon tried to withhold evidence using that excuse, the Supreme Court shot him down unanimously, effectively ending his presidency.

Even so, no way can Trump testify under oath. Assuming that the special counsel does issue a grand jury subpoena—and it could be a more ominous sign if he doesn’t—the president has just one viable option. Well, two. He can resign the office, or he can take the Fifth Amendment.

Video clips of Trump haranguing low-level Hillary Clinton aides for pleading the Fifth would soon become as familiar as Stormy.

“If you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” Trump demanded. “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

Toobin thinks Trump can ride it out, and probably he can.

That is until Mueller files his report, which promises to be devastating.