On Trial For Campaign Crimes, Trump Is Drenched In Tabloid Sewage

On Trial For Campaign Crimes, Trump Is Drenched In Tabloid Sewage

National Enquirer covers smearing Hillary Clinton in 2016

Back in the antediluvian era of American politics, perpetrating dirty tricks was considered proof of bad character and potentially disqualifying for public office, depending on circumstances.

But as with so many other aspects of public life, the rise of former President Donald Trump heralded a steep decline in political ethics and the way that campaigns are run. And now, after nearly a decade of Trump-style politics, the sleazy conduct exposed in sworn testimony at his New York trial is dismissed with a shrug — especially by Republicans who ask nothing better of their leaders.

Leave aside for a moment the dubious practice of paying off women — an adult movie star and a former Playboy model — to ensure their silence about illicit trysts with Melania Trump's husband. (Having promised a spot on his Celebrity Apprentice TV show to porn actress Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump seems to have been paying at both ends.) Evangelical Christians who used to proclaim their indignation about licentious sexuality have discredited themselves thoroughly, which should not surprise anyone who has observed their antics over the past few decades.

What Trump did to silence Daniels and Karen McDougal was unsavory, and his effort to conceal it was probably illegal, but the truly dirty conspiracy involved the smearing of his political opponents.

According to the testimony of David Pecker, his friend and coconspirator who ran the National Enquirer tabloid, Trump and his henchman attorney Michael Cohen promoted the publication of scurrilous lies about his rivals on its front page.

At the same moment that Trump bestowed the nickname "Lyin' Ted" on Ted Cruz, his final opponent for the 2016 Republican nomination, he and his crew were overseeing the publication of outrageous lies about the Texas senator. In spring 2016, the Enquirer featured an absurd story, complete with a doctored photo, claiming that Cruz's father Rafael, an ordained minister, had been consorting with Lee Harvey Oswald just before Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

Insane as that accusation was, Trump used it to distract Republican voters from criticism of him by Cruz. On Fox News, he declared that "Cruz's father, you know, was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's, you know, being shot. ... What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It's horrible." What's horrible, of course, is that Trump knew he was spouting an invented story, because it had been invented to benefit him.

The Enquirer went on to publish more fabricated tales about Cruz, including a claim that he had engaged in at least five extramarital affairs — again, while the tabloid was covering up Trump's actual and lengthy history of adultery.

After Cruz had been dispatched, and then prostrated himself cravenly to endorse Trump, the Enquirer moved on to smearing Hillary Clinton, a hobby pursued by the disgusting Pecker with gusto for years before Trump entered politics.

"The desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won't make it to the White House — because she'll be dead in six months," the paper blared, insisting that the Democratic nominee suffered from brain cancer, strokes, alcoholism, multiple sclerosis and various forms of mental illness, all somehow concealed from the public and press. None of those mythical ailments actually afflicted the former secretary of state, who is still alive and well — and fighting to defeat Trump.

Much of the fake news published by the tabloid about Clinton was pitched by Steve Bannon, the Trump adviser who swindled thousands of donors to his "Build the Wall" charity — and only evaded prison thanks to a corrupt pardon. Naturally, Bannon is back and, like Trump, has endured no opprobrium for his amply proven crimes. Instead, he is a powerful influence on the far right and in Republican circles.

Back when Trump and his cronies oversaw the publication and broadcasting of all those falsehoods, he said repeatedly that he had nothing to do with the Enquirer and its raging defamations. He seemed to sense there was some shame in that kind of sick deception. But he and his attorneys no longer need to deny any of it, because on the American right, the worst kinds of deceit are accepted and even acclaimed, while their perpetrator is idolized.

And still, they will lecture the rest of us about "morality."

Reprinted with permission from Creators Syndicate

Joe Conason is founder and editor-in-chief of The National Memo.He is also editor-at-large of Type Investigations, a nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom formerly known as The Investigative Fund, and a senior fellow at Type Media Center. His forthcoming book, The Longest Con: How Grifters, Swindlers and Frauds Hijacked American Conservatism, will be published by St. Martin's Press in July.On

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