I have two words for President Trump: David Barrett. He was appointed an independent counsel to investigate payments made by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros to a former mistress. That was in 1995. Barrett finished up only 11 years later, by which time almost no one could remember what the investigation was about or, even, who Cisneros was. A special counsel, like the shark in “Jaws,” or the Pinkerton agents in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” just keeps on coming.
The president does not seem to realize that. He is consistent in always loving the face in the mirror, but on other matters, he is mercurial and chaotic. Just last week his lead lawyer, John Dowd
, resigned, purportedly because Trump will not take his advice. Trump wants to sit down with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and work his charm on the man. Dowd, being an experienced criminal lawyer, looked upon such a meeting with appropriate apprehension — the president, after all, having possibly last told the truth when he stated his name at his inauguration. After that, the record is spotty.
Dowd was just the latest of several lawyers who have bailed on Trump. His longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, was early on board and early to abandon ship — though he might yet come back. He, too, favored an aggressive strategy that, to Dowd and others, was sheer foolishness. At the moment, Trump’s team is led by Jay Sekulow, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court but has never tried a criminal case in his life. As is typical for a Trump aide, he has often appeared on Fox News. This, though, is not the same as courtroom experience.
Last week, Trump came up with two new names. He announced that Joseph E. diGenova, another Fox fixture, would join his legal team. DiGenova practices with his wife, Victoria Toensing, in a boutique firm, but one of their clients gave them a conflict and they had to withdraw as Trump’s counsel. T’was a pity. They would have been good fun. They are both enamored of conspiracy theories, some of them having to do with the consummate evil of Hillary Clinton and the murders of Americans that she supposedly arranged or permitted — or something! — at Benghazi in Libya.
More recently, diGenova discovered a government conspiracy to do in Trump. “There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News. (Where else?) And who was doing all this? The FBI, of course.
The Trump brand of chaos is extreme, acute and should worry us all. It evinces a presidency that cannot function. Here, after all, is a president who could stand in considerable legal jeopardy. Yet Trump sort of wings it. He must feel he is up against some widow who won’t make way for his Atlantic City casino, or some woman who mistakes a spot of sex with Trump for a payday. According to USA Today, Trump has been involved in 4,095 lawsuits. Most of the time, he goes on the offensive and countersues. He learned contempt for the law from a master, Roy Cohn, who was eventually disbarred.
This time, though, Trump has met his match. Mueller is seen always in the same film clip, leaving a government building. He shuns the spotlight. He never smiles. He is a central-casting evocation of the old WASP establishment figure — St. Paul’s School, Princeton, University of Virginia Law School and combat in Vietnam as a Marine. He thought his country was owed his service. He was a citizen. He had certain obligations. In combat, he was brave, winning a Bronze Star. Trump, in contrast, ducked the draft five times, the last for a bone spur in one foot or the other. (He has said he can’t remember.)
This is a fight between the old America, upright and conscientious, and the new America of easy lies, shirking of duty and alleged extramarital cuddles with porn actresses. It’s as if the America of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations ripped itself off the cover of the old Saturday Evening Post and is coming right at Trump, pitchfork in hand. Trump, a brat in bespoke suits, is in more trouble than he imagines. Now both time and money will work against him: The special counsel never runs out of either. Ask Henry Cisneros.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.
Read more about this issue:
Greg Sargent: Raging, isolated Trump can’t bluff his way out this time
Paul Waldman: Trump’s lawyer just quit. Here’s what it means for the Mueller investigation.
Jennifer Rubin: Dowd is out, so what is next for Trump’s legal team?
Karen Tumulty: When Trump goes low, go low