The Silencer: With the Stakes Getting High, the President Tightens the Muzzle

By Jeff Robbins

June 30, 2020 5 min read

It isn't easy being Donald Trump these days: so many people to silence and so little time. Muzzling those who have damaging evidence on you can be exhausting in the best of circumstances, and keeping a lid on so much incriminating information springing from so many different sources would make anyone cranky. The president has had to block the disclosure of his tax returns, stonewall congressional subpoenas, fire a slew of inspectors general investigating corruption in his administration and launder $130,000 in hush money to buy the silence of a porn star with whom he was having an "alleged" affair four months after his third wife gave birth to their son. And that's just for starters. It is never a good sign when the United States Marine Band has to be pointedly reminded not to play "Hail to the One-Man Racketeering Enterprise" when the president appears.

Last week, a New York state judge rejected an effort, clearly orchestrated by Trump, to block his niece Mary Trump from publishing her forthcoming book about how he conducts himself. "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man" — out on July 28, available wherever books are sold — is causing concern in Trump World, and understandably so. After all, who among us has not forced family members to sign nondisclosure agreements preventing them from telling the truth about us and then filed a lawsuit to keep them quiet? The legal battle over whether Mary Trump gets to speak or get gagged is not yet over. The president hopes to fare better suppressing his niece's book then he did suppressing that of his former national security adviser John Bolton, in which Bolton depicts a president historically unfit to protect Americans from hostile nations and seemingly disinterested in doing so. Trump, Bolton flatly told CNN's Jake Tapper, is "dangerous enough that he shouldn't get a second term."

Nothing invigorates Trump's machinations to hide evidence quite like his concern that the evidence may place him in criminal jeopardy, a concern that is far from fanciful. Cheating family members is one thing. Felony charges are another, and it is likely not lost on Trump that, with his poll numbers looking grim, he may not be president on Jan. 21, 2021. If he isn't, it is not only Air Force One that he will be losing but also the protection of the Justice Department's legal opinion that sitting presidents cannot be indicted.

This did not augur well for one Geoffrey Berman, the highly respected — and Republican — United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was informed one recent Friday night that, unbeknownst to him, he had "stepped down." Berman issued a statement saying that he had done no such thing, whereupon Trump dispensed with the pretense and fired him. It did not require Sherlock Holmes to decipher the reason: Berman and his office have never gotten the proverbial memo that their job was to protect Trump. It was Berman whose prosecutors convicted former Trump lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen, unceremoniously identifying Trump in the indictment as the "Individual 1" who had directed Cohen to commit felonious acts. It is Berman whose prosecutors have already charged Rudy Giuliani's Merry Men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and who are reportedly investigating Giuliani himself. This is not an episode of "Flip The Felon" that Donald Trump can be especially eager to see play out. In short: Bye-bye, Berman.

Recent polls indicate that there is only so much obstruction of justice most Americans can stomach. Last week's New York Times poll reflected that only 36% of voters are prepared to reelect Trump. That's just a few points above the percentage of Americans convinced that, pandemic or no pandemic, wearing a mask is the equivalent of donning Satan's Loincloth. The president's gag show has always been designed to bury evidence of his wrongdoing. But there is growing evidence that it is repelling his countrymen.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

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