In the space of a day, President Donald Trump’s legal troubles have taken a series of hairpin turns for the worse.
A New York judge ruled that Summer Zervos, who accused Trump of sexual harassment, can proceed with defamation claims against him.
With her lawyer revealing a photo of her passing a lie detector test of her claims years ago, adult film star Stormy Daniels is pressing her demand to be freed to tell her story of an affair with him.
And former Playboy model Karen McDougal who also alleges an affair with Trump, is suing the company that owns the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., which allegedly bought her story so it could kill it. She too wants to be released from an agreement mandating her silence.
There’s more: Special counsel Robert Mueller has demanded documents from Trump’s businesses, and superstar lawyer — and former solicitor general — Theodore Olson turned away the notion that he would join the President’s legal team. Sources familiar with the matter had told CNN the team was interested in adding Olson.
Into this fray comes Joseph diGenova, who a hemmed-in Trump has added to the crowd of lawyers helping him deal with Mueller’s probe of Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election. In hiring diGenova, Trump is staying true to the style that has landed him in this mess — all of it.
DiGenova’s new role signals that Trump wants more help making the specious public argument that he is a victim of the so-called “deep state,” which, by his lights, includes many at the Federal Bureau of Investigation — which, in turn, he says is out to get him.
Having assumed office with only an electoral college majority — and amid Russian interference— Trump became President under a cloud of controversy that threatened his legitimacy from the start. It is easy to see where diGenova will find common cause with the President.
A former prosecutor who made the leap to conservative pundit 30 years ago, diGenova has reliably sputtered about this supposed conspiracy against Trump all over right wing media. Among his recent claims on Fox News:
“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.”
“It wasn’t the Russians who corrupted the presidential election; it was the American officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI.”
“We are headed toward a very sad ending for the FBI and senior DOJ officials. … I believe that several high FBI officials will be charged criminally. And it is conceivable that some DOJ people will also be charged criminally. … I would consider this the largest law enforcement scandal in history for this reason.
These performances, tuned to Trump’s ear, no doubt made diGenova a go-to guy for the frustrated President. Decades past his service in 1997 as a special counsel in a case against a labor union, diGenova could not be expected to offer much lawyering that couldn’t be done by the attorneys already at work. However, he can make a public case for his client, and his long record of commentary surely fits Trump’s ideal for this duty.
In January 2016, long before anyone linked the Trump campaign and Russia, diGenova was advocating for Trump and against his likely opponent. In his telling, the FBI was reaching “critical mass” in its investigation of Clinton’s emails and he declared she would be “charged with a crime” and be unable to run for president. She never was charged.
Earlier, diGenova was a gadfly participant in the effort to create a scandal over then-Secretary of State Clinton’s handling of the attack on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Years of investigation confirmed no scandal.
In fact, diGenova’s record of loose talk and as a conspiracy theory con man appear to be his main qualifications for an appointment to the Trump team. Trump, who tried to con America into believing, among other things, that Barack Obama was born abroad, likes to hire in his own image. Thus he has surrounded himself with cons, bullies and grifters whom others would find underqualified.
A few examples: Last week chief of staff John Kelly demonstrated a very Trump-like appetite for bullying when he told the press corps that he and not the President informed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he was being fired. For good measure Kelly revealed that Tillerson, having fallen ill during a mission abroad, was on the toilet when he received the news.
Not to be outdone in the practice of humiliation, on the day when Kelly told his Tillerson-on-the-toilet tale, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to fire career FBI man Andrew McCabe just before he could qualify for his full federal pension. McCabe was a key ally of former bureau Director James Comey, whom Trump himself fired over the Russia probe. The excuse offered for the McCabe dismissal was a currently secret report indicating that McCabe had not been forthcoming about his involvement in giving the press information on the FBI’s investigation of Clinton.
Coming from Sessions, who repeatedly misled Congress on his own contacts with Russia, the firing seems more like brutality exercised to make a point with Trump, Sessions’ boss. Of course, Sessions had previously established his penchant for cruelty with his appetite for anti-immigrant obsession and his desire to reinstate lengthy mandatory sentencing policies that fall disproportionately on the poor and minorities.
Compared with the bullies, the grifters in the Trump administration seem less unpleasant, but their transgressions are no less outrageous. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price indulged in $400,000 worth of travel in private aircraft before he quit after less than a year of service.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had spent $800,000 on just seven flights, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke paid $53,000 on just three helicopter flights, including one taken so he could ride a horse with Vice President Mike Pence.
When it comes to American values, Trump has led the descent of his government with authoritarian-style doublespeak claims that would have us accept that the firing of McCabe marked a “great day for democracy.” His denunciations of the women alleging affairs with him, and his refusal to accept his lawyers’ cautions mark Trump as the model of a leader out of his depth.
We will see how well he is served by his decision-making as multiple controversies unspool inside the legal system. And we will see how well served Trump is by his newest lawyer, who will be right at home with the bullies, the grifters and the cons that this President has drawn to his side.