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Michael Cohen was sent to New York’s notorious Riker’s Island prison for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen MacDougal to keep them quiet in the weeks before the 2016 election about their affairs with Donald Trump.
Having the affairs wasn’t Cohen’s idea, and he never slept with either woman. It wasn’t even his idea to pay them off: that came from Donald Trump and David Pecker, who called it “catch and kill” as in, “pay off the women to kill the story.”
But Michael Cohen went to prison for this crime: a crime designed to get Donald Trump elected president even though in the weeks just before the 2016 election the Access Hollywood “When you’re a star, they let you do it…” tape had come out.
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As advocates for New York City DA Alvin Bragg have repeatedly pointed out, had America also learned then that Trump was having sex with these women while Melania was pregnant and afterwards, odds are Hillary Clinton would have become president that year, there never would’ve been an attempt to overthrow our government, and we’d have a very different Supreme Court today.
It was criminal election interference which altered the course of American history for at least a generation, directed by the criminal himself.
All Cohen had done was deliver the money to the women; the reimbursements to Cohen were even signed personally by Trump. But Cohen went to prison and Trump played golf several times a week while living in the White House for four long years.
Yesterday, Trump marched into a New York Court of Appeals and demanded his $450 million bond to appeal his fraud conviction be reduced; the judge, perhaps intimidated by Trump’s violent hordes or perhaps simply in thrall to his great wealth, was exceptionally accommodating, lowing it to $175 million and giving him another ten days to raise the money.
This in the same state “justice system” where Kalief Browder, a Black teenager accused of stealing a New Yorker’s backpack but unable to raise $3000 in bond money, spent 800 days in solitary confinement before dying without a trial in the same Rikers Island prison where Cohen was sentenced and Trump should be sitting today.
As former RNC Chairman Michael Steele noted on Xitter:
“Yet again, @realDonaldTrump gets special treatment with his own private system of justice. The NY Appeals Court has decided to give Trump more time to pay less money by reducing his bond from $454M to $175M and giving him 10 days to get the money. This makes absolutely no sense.”
And, yet, it does make sense, at least to many of those charged with administering justice in America. It’s known as “billionaire privilege” and it’s taking down our republic.
Hundreds of working class people who answered Donald Trump’s invitation to January 6th are sitting in prison today, but the ringleader, the guy without whom those people would not be in jail, the guy who had the idea, who invited the people, and who incited the mob walks free.
Elon Musk brags about his drug use and doesn’t even lose a government contract, while average people’s homes are raided and they spend years in prison for the same or lesser crimes.
While non-billionaire Bill Clinton was investigated for years for losing money in an Arkansas land deal, Trump’s son-in-law, the heir to millions himself, walked off with $2 billion from a murderous Saudi prince for, well, we don’t know what documents or secret information Jared might have sold MBS for all that money. There was, after all, a massive copy machine in that storage room at Mar-a-Lago in the weeks after Trump left DC and before Kushner flew over and got his cash.
Similarly, Trump’s Treasury Secretary “Foreclosure King” Steve Mnuchin passed out half-a-trillion dollars in COVID emergency loans and gifts to his billionaire buddies and foreign interests and then successfully blocked any release of information about who got how much or for what reasons.
We still don’t know to this day what happened to that half-billion dollars, as both Congress and the DOJ appear to have no interest in investigating. Many of us would like to know who he gave over $500 billion to or even what country they were in, although it sure appears that those gifts provoked Saudi Prince Bonesaw to reward Mnuchin with his very own billion dollars the same week Kushner walked away with his prize.
Billionaires on Wall Street routinely game the system and billionaire-owned hedge funds are destroying our newspapers, hospitals, and residential housing; but when Martha Stewart passed along a stock tip to her broker she — a non-billionaire who’s making cat food commercials to stay afloat — ended up in prison.
This is not how a republic should function; it’s also not how the Founders of America envisioned things going.
On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, September 18, 1787, when Ben Franklin and Maryland delegate James McHenry were leaving the building now known as Independence Hall, they were approached by Elizabeth Willing Powel, a socialite who, with her husband Samuel, later became close friends of George and Martha Washington.
Powel asked Franklin what sort of government the men in the building had created, and he replied, according to the journal of the convention kept by McHenry:
“A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”
The essential and core feature of a republic is that no person is above the law. A republic does not recognize royalty of any sort, be it based on heredity, wealth, or fame. Everybody is held to the same standards.
Our second president, John Adams, wrote in 1744 in the Massachusetts Gazette that the government of England had failed to be “a government of laws, and not of men.”
Adams was elected 35 years later (1779) to help draft the Massachusetts Constitution, which, probably by no coincidence, echoes that language in Article XXX, saying that the state enacts laws, “to the end [that] it may be a government of laws and not of men.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his 1762 Economie Politique, which inspired and informed our nation’s Founders, noted that the main job of a republic “is found in rendering justice to all, and especially in protecting the poor against the tyranny of the rich.”
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and advocate for the Bill of Rights, agreed. In a 1787 letter to Edward Carrington, he wrote:
“It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”
In an 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval, Jefferson explained:
“I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom.”
Rousseau was also echoed by John Adams in a November 15, 1813 letter to Jefferson:
“When Aristocracies are established by human Laws and honour and Wealth and Power are made hereditary by municipal Laws and political Institutions, then I acknowledge artificial Aristocracy to commence: but this never commences, till Corruption in Elections become dominant and uncontroulable.”
Of course, that is exactly what has happened here in the United States in the years since the Reagan Revolution. When the Supreme Court was transformed into a corrupt conservative powerhouse by Nixon’s appointment of Lewis Powell in 1972, its Republican justices began the methodical process of elevating the power of the morbidly rich while gutting voting rights and the power of working people to organize into unions.
This deconstruction of the American middle class and elevation of the morbidly rich reached its first peak during the Reagan years of the 1980s, and is going through a prolonged second peak right now.
Rightwing and fossil fuel billionaires stepped up, newly empowered, and created national networks of think tanks and media, from newspapers to radio and television networks, to influence public opinion toward their goal of lower taxes on the rich and deregulation of corporate pollution and ripoffs.
Republicans on the Court legalized political bribery in 1978 in the Bellotti decision (authored by Lewis Powell), writing that corporations are “persons” with rights under the Bill of Rights, and bribes are merely “free speech.” Within months of that decision, GOP politicians and Ronald Reagan launched a 50+ year-long spree of elevating the power and wealth of the already wealthy while gutting the voting rights and income of the middle class and the poor.
And now, as we can see in Congress, they’re turning on each other in a vicious war between “Main Street Republicans” and neofascist MAGA Republicans. Billionaires are splitting their political loyalties, as are Republicans in both the House and Senate. These divisions are being echoed in state capitols across the nation, sometimes violently.
It’s like John Adams had a time machine. In his second paragraph in that 1813 letter to Jefferson, he added:
“But this artificial Aristocracy can never last. The everlasting Envys, Jealousies, Rivalries and quarrells among them, their cruel rapacities upon the poor ignorant People their followers, compel these to Set up Caesar, a Demagogue to be a Monarch and Master, pour mettre chacun a sa place. Here you have the origin of all artificial Aristocracy, which is the origin of all Monarchy…”
Then, like some sort of 18th century Nostradamus, Adams added in the next sentence:
“We, to be Sure, are far remote from this. Many hundred years must roll away before We Shall be corrupted.”
And here we are, many hundred years later. Yesterday, retired Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote that Trump getting his bond reduced was “a travesty of justice.”
Tristan Snell, who prosecuted the Trump University fraud case that ended in a conviction that costed Trump $25 million, wrote:
“Appellate judges hand Trump a gift, cut bond down to $175 million, give him 10 extra days; Imagine a basketball team down by 40 points, and with 1:00 left in the game, refs give the losing team 5 more minutes — and lower the hoop from 10ft to 6ft.”
Many Americans are outraged that Trump, after defrauding the State of New York and multiple banks and insurance companies out of over $450 million, was initially given a month to come up with the money to pay it back and then got another ten days along with his bond cut more than in half to secure his assets during his appeal.
As Trump continues to use tens of millions in donations he hustled from the rubes who support him to game our criminal justice system, we see new examples almost every day of how billionaires get away with things unimaginable to the average person.
Examples begin with the fact that the average person who doesn’t pay income taxes goes to jail, but average billionaires in America are paying between three and nine percent in income taxes and have been for decades. Trump never paid more than $750 a year.
That outrage, hopefully, will lead to some real and meaningful change in America if we can take our country back from the corrupt and well-funded GOP this November.
A critical starting point is with the de-corruption of our criminal justice system, from the cops through the courts and all the way up to the Supreme Court. Multiple and massive reforms are necessary at every level, now that the corruption has gotten so severe that it threatens to end our form of government.
As Bernie Sanders recently said:
“You know it. I know it. The current American political system is corrupt.
“You get to cast one vote. Billionaires get to spend hundreds of millions supporting or defeating candidates of their choice. That’s not democracy. That’s Oligarchy. And that’s why we must overturn the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United and move to public funding of elections.”
If we fail, Adams’ distant prophecy and Franklin’s warning to Mrs. Powel may well be the last thing we remember before Trump and his Republicans end civics, history, and our form of government.
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