The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Roy Cohn, left, and Donald Trump in 1982

The magnitude of former President Donald Trump's crimes against the American Republic comes into sharper focus with daily revelations of his plot to overturn the 2020 election. His latest attempt to intimidate prosecutors and congressional investigators with barely cloaked incitements to violence at a rally last weekend — like the bluster of a mob boss facing justice — reveals his consciousness of guilt.

Strangely, to a handful of remaining apologists, Trump's endless repetition of disproved lies about voter fraud raises a whisper of doubt. If he believes his own fantastic absurdities, they say, was he really guilty of subverting the constitutional process? Or was he sincerely pursuing remedies, however twisted, to what he truly perceived as an unfair outcome?

To anyone who recalls Trump's political and moral education under the tutelage of the late Roy Cohn, mouthpiece for demagogues and mobsters, such quibbles are beside the point. Cohn cheated the government, swindled his clients and lied to the courts. His only worry was whether he could escape sanctions for his misconduct. That was why Trump plaintively cried out during the early days of the Russia investigation, "Where is my Roy Cohn?" He expected the attorney general and the FBI director to behave like his crooked lawyer and model.

Cohn might be pleased, from wherever his shade may reside, to see that some still feel obliged to offer up excuses and alibis on behalf of his infamous client. Not long ago, a law professor went on television to suggest that Trump might not be liable for his corrupt attempt to influence Georgia officials and reverse the actual outcome of the 2020 election in the Peach State. Why? Because he had tweeted about his conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and thus had revealed the evidence cited against him. If his intentions were truly nefarious, this logician stated, he would never have disclosed his contact with Raffensperger.

The problem with the professor's theory is the usual problem involving Trump: the facts. So, in fact, Trump brazenly lied about his discussion with Raffensperger. Obviously, he didn't know that the Georgia Republican had recorded their call and, even more unfortunately for Trump, would release the recording in response to Trump's falsehoods. As Raffensperger later explained, "It was a private conversation as far as I was concerned, and he broke privacy when he put out a tweet. But then his tweet was false."

Trump claimed that during the hour-long call, he had confronted Raffensperger with evidence of rampant fraud that the secretary of state failed to answer. But, in fact, Trump could offer no such evidence, and instead threatened Raffensperger and his counsel while demanding that they "find" the exact 11,780 votes he needed to win the state.

Rather than evidence of Trump's benign intentions, this mind-boggling conversation and his subsequent lying tweet stand as proof of the state of mind known in law as "mens rea": the knowledge of wrongdoing that defines criminality. Nearly everything Trump has done over the past year, and especially as the prospect of accountability looms over him, must be viewed through that lens. Then the clarity of his criminal intent keeps getting brighter and bolder.

When Trump proclaims that if elected again, he will pardon the hundreds of vandals and thugs who attacked the Capitol to advance his coup on Jan. 6, 2021, he is telling them to keep quiet. That was precisely what he did by dangling (and then delivering) pardons to Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn and others who might have testified against him in the Russia investigation. Obstructing justice by abusing the pardon power is what ultimately frustrated Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump's Russian ties. It is a sure sign of guilt, not innocence.

Knowing what's in the heart or mind of another person is uncertain, yet motive is necessary to establish in assessing the culpability of criminals. Trump's arrogance constantly reveals his sense of impunity and shows us time and again the evidence of his culpability in some of the greatest crimes this country has ever seen. We must heed his confessions and hope that Attorney General Merrick Garland acts accordingly.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Keep reading... Show less

Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

{{ }}