Within minutes of one another, two former high-level associates of President Donald Trump were found guilty of felonies last week. Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign throughout the pivotal summer of 2016, was convicted on eight charges, including tax fraud and bank fraud. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, pleaded guilty to eight charges, including tax evasion and making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate – the hush money paid to one of Trump’s mistresses.
Five of Trump’s former close associates have already been indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Manafort and Cohen join Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign; and campaign aid Rick Gates. Dozens of others have also been indicted. The president has thus far managed to stay just beyond reach, but the indictments and convictions underscore Trump’s lifelong adjacency to criminal activity.
Donald Trump’s first brush with national notoriety, and perhaps the start of his feud with the Justice Department, came in 1973, when he and his father were accused of discriminating against potential black tenants in violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Several victims survive to the present day and want an apology from the president, but Trump has never admitted any wrongdoing and the family reached a solution out of court with the Justice Department. The case is perhaps the earliest known example of Trump’s disregard for the rule of law.
More recently, in November 2016, after Trump was elected president, Trump University settled a case and agreed to pay $25 million to defrauded Americans. Everything about Trump University was a scam, right down to its name. Students were promised insight into Trump’s business expertise, taught by professionals handpicked by Trump, and were sometimes told Trump would appear in person. Instead they were bullied by pushy salesmen into purchasing the most expensive courses they could afford, often costing tens of thousands of dollars.
Even Trump’s charity, the Trump Foundation, is under investigation by the State of New York. The New York attorney general alleges Trump “misused his charitable foundation for personal and political gains over more than a decade,” according to The LA Times. Trump allegedly used money from the charity to settle personal lawsuits, donate to politicians, and buy a $10,000 portrait of himself. In a similar vein, Trump charged family members to hold charity events on his property, effectively funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his children’s charitable foundations into his own pocket.
It’s entirely possible that Trump doesn’t view any of this activity as criminal, despite the mounting legal actions against him. His words following the Manafort verdict are instructive. Trump dismissed the fraud charges as “a 12 year old tax case” and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, downplayed the charges, saying, “It’s a white collar crime, who the heck is in jeopardy, the American public?” Trump further praised Manafort for not turning in evidence against him, then suggested that “flipping” should perhaps be illegal.
Giuliani, a former prosecutor who rose to fame during his war on the mafia, knows full well the importance of turning witnesses against their bosses. Now he’s working for a man whose view of the law boils down to “pro-Trump is legal, anti-Trump is illegal,” who demands loyalty, and who has decades of mob ties in his record.
As a builder in New York and New Jersey in the 1980s, some of Trump’s dealings with crime families were virtually unavoidable. According to longtime Trump watcher David Cay Johnston, however, Trump went above and beyond. Trump used mob concrete, provided an apartment at Trump Tower to a known mobster, and used his mob connections to suppress union uprisings and employ cheap, nonunion labor. In 1992, a Senate report identified members of Asian organized crime in top-level positions at Trump Taj Mahal. Trump’s connections to Russian crime figures run deep, too. In 2013 the NYPD busted a Russian gambling ring headquartered one floor below Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower.
No less serious are the myriad allegations of sexual assault against Trump. At least 16 women have accused him of unwanted groping, kissing, peeping, and more. Many of the accounts match the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Trump brags, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” Trump has admitted to peeping on beauty pageant contestants and has been accused of peeping on underage contestants.
If guilt by association were a real crime, Trump could already be indicted. Despite Trump’s characterization of him as a “brave man,” Paul Manafort’s own daughters refer to their family’s wealth as “blood money.” Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, allegedly grifted more than $120 million from business associates over the years. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s real estate empire was recently fined $210,000 by the State of New York for lying about the number of rent-controlled tenants living in its buildings. Such scandals are routine in Trump’s orbit.
Several former close allies of Trump’s have begun to turn on him. National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who used a “catch-and-kill” process to buy and then suppress potentially damaging stories during Trump’s campaign, is reportedly cooperating with Robert Mueller. Michael Cohen, who once said he’d take a bullet for Trump, is now turning evidence against him. Reality star Omarosa Manigault Newman once warned Trump’s critics that they’d have to “bow down” to him; now she’s written a scathing inside account of her time at the White House.
Exactly what charges, if any, Mueller will bring against Trump is impossible to know right now. One probable scenario is that Trump is a massive, international money launderer. So far, there doesn’t seem to be enough publicly available evidence to charge him in a conspiracy with the Russian government to undermine US elections. From the information already publicly available, however, it’s clear Trump is an unscrupulous, unethical fraud who has surrounded himself with shady grifters and long reigned over a number of criminal ventures.