Of Laws and of Men

All hope is not lost in the United States, a country plagued by the worst reality TV show in its history: the Donald Trump presidency.

This week, American democracy’s distinctive system of powers and counterpowers has produced explosive results, just when we thought things were settling down. Justice has a slow walk but a long arm. Two years after the beginning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been convicted of eight of the 18 fraud charges pending against him.

The president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has also confessed to fraud and violation of election laws in another case. During the presidential campaign, together with Donald Trump, Cohen bought the silence of two of the Republican candidate’s extramarital conquests: porn actress Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) for $130,000, and nude model Karen McDougal for $150,000.

Trump can technically shout that he is the victim of a “witch hunt,” since the actions of Manafort and Cohen have nothing to do with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The fact remains that Manafort and Cohen could work with Special Counsel Mueller in the hopes of reducing their prison sentences. In doing so, they could contribute to advancing the investigation into the Russian interference, which so far has led to the filing of about 100 charges against 33 people and three companies, without reaching the heart of the Trump empire.

President Trump’s reactions to the fall of Manafort and Cohen are astonishingly stupid. Far from congratulating himself because the rule of law is still respected in the United States, far from rejoicing that the government is one of laws, not men, to paraphrase John Adams, one of the fathers of the Constitution, the 45th president of the United States has taken up a defense of the corrupt.

Thus, Manafort is a “good man” toward whom he feels compassion, because he has only committed “small crimes that were barely crimes.”* The president even goes so far as to suggest that the federal prosecutor’s tactic of recruiting witnesses by offering them immunity from prosecution should be illegal, even though this is essential to tracing evidence back to the heads of criminal networks or, in this case, to the president’s men. Let’s imagine for a minute the outcry in Quebec if a prime minister in office expressed sadness at Tony Accurso’s recent fraud conviction.

The laws of decency and political morality no longer hold in the United States. Trump takes the side of the guilty, the criminals and the corrupt, all while attacking his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he blames for not taking control of the Justice Department. An autocrat would think no less. Sessions responded by saying that his department would not be swayed by political considerations. That says it all. The judicial branch thus fulfills its purpose. Despite his crises, Trump has never acted on his threat to dismiss Sessions or Mueller. This seems to be a double red line that he is not ready to cross due to warnings from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Nevertheless, Congress is not carrying out its responsibilities with the vigor necessary to restrain Trump’s anti-democratic impetus, which is unpredictable in his attacks aimed at state institutions that he is supposed to cherish and protect. In a bipartisan action, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary has proposed a bill aimed at preserving the integrity of the investigation into Russian interference. If the law is adopted, the Justice Department would not be able to fire Special Counsel Mueller without demonstrating that it was a justifiable dismissal. The Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, refuses to submit the draft to a vote on the pretext that President Trump would never dare sack Mueller anyway.

This reckless and flippant attitude contrasts with the zeal that Republicans showed toward the slightest misbehavior of elected Democrats when they were the opposition. McConnell is calling for electoral sanctions during the midterm elections. If the Republican majority wants to sink with Trump, they shouldn’t drag democracy down with the ship.

*Editor’s Note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified, but may refer to Trump’s tweet that Cohen had pleaded guilty to “two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime.”

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