Sex, Lies and Michael Cohen’s Tapes

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Lordy, there are tapes. 

I’m talking about the latest presidential sex scandal, the one in which then-candidate Donald Trump appears to have arranged for payments through his … I suppose I really do have to call him a “fixer” here, Michael Cohen, and through the National Enquirer to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so that she would stay quiet about the affair she says she had with Trump. Cohen taped a conversation with Trump and released it to the public on Tuesday night, so we’re all on that one now.

That’s not the same as the previous presidential sex scandal, the one about Trump’s payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about their alleged affair. Or maybe they’re both part of the same scandal. There are political scientists who study these things, and I suppose they’ll have to figure out how to categorize and sort all of this. The payoffs to women who (allegedly, I suppose) had affairs with Trump is a separate scandal from the set of women — some 15 of them — who have lodged various accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Trump, who I should mention is president.

All of this makes it difficult to focus on the fact that New York is suing Trump for allegedly running a fraudulent charitable foundation. Which also includes the possibility of federal criminal action over tax fraud. That one disappeared from the news after 24 hours or so, but even if the news media don’t seem to care, it sure seems like a big deal to me, and one that certainly might have caused a feeding frenzy for any other president. 

Be sure, though, not to confuse that with the Trump University fraud, which cost the president a $25 million settlement last year. I’d love to see some polling about how many people are aware of either of the fraud stories; I’d guess it’s well under half of the electorate. And of course we still could get more in this general area. 

So that’s … oh, wait! I forgot all about the special prosecutor investigating Trump and his campaign for working with Russians interfering in the U.S. election and then covering it up. Yeah, that’s a fairly big one.

Trump is also almost certainly violating both constitutional clauses forbidding domestic and foreign emoluments. And another categorizing problem: Is that the same scandal as the obvious conflicts of interest Trump has constantly involved himself in as president? 

Now, I haven’t mentioned some of the other abuses of power — things such as using his office to intimidate the press and to quash dissent outside of and within the government. Nor have I mentioned the various cabinet scandals past (and past) and present (and present). I mean, at this point, who can even remember which of them spent $31,000 for an office dining room set? (It was Ben Carson.)

Some of these are certainly impeachable offenses, if true. Others? Not so much. But it’s terribly important to keep some perspective — by which I mean that we can, and should, care about scandals even if they don’t rise to the level of impeachment. 

At any rate, in what may or may not be related news, a new poll Tuesday found half the nation says they are embarrassed to have Trump as president, compared with a whopping 27 percent who say they’re proud. 

1. Matt Glassman on turnover in the House

2. Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction argues that Republican senators should be willing to vote against their short-term interests in order to discipline Trump. That’s not a bad argument, but I think it depends. The problem, for example, in holding judges hostage is that there’s every possibility that Republican senators (including Jeff Flake) care a lot more about the federal bench than Trump does — and so if they block one of his picks, he just won’t care. 

3. Mark Wickham-Jones on the old American Political Science Association report on the political parties. I’m firmly with Austin Ranney on all of this. 

4. Missed this one before, but still very worth it: Suzanne Mettler on social programs, the Trump administration and “We are all beneficiaries of government.”

5. Brad DeLong on what the Fed is up to.

6. Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter-Poza has the case for Puerto Rico’s statehood — and the case for Democrats making it a high priority. 

7. Perry Bacon Jr. on Kamala Harris. I’ve been a little skeptical of her as a 2020 contender — I think she has national potential but starts a step behind other senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkley and Chris Murphy. But she’s moved aggressively so far, and that may make up for it. Watching, as always, for any hints from the invisible primary.

8. Stan Collender has further thoughts on the possibility of a shutdown. He’s correct, of course, that congressional Republicans and the White House are not necessarily on the same page. I’ll agree with him on one other thing: It’s entirely plausible that Trump would choose do something that self-destructive. But I’ll still be surprised if it happens. 

9. And Julian Sanchez on the Carter Page FISA application and what it tells us about privacy.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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