“Today is the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office,” said the legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin on CNN last Thursday.
“This is the beginning of the end for Trump,” declared Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general, on MSNBC.
“The deal may be among the biggest news in the nearly 18-month investigation,” wrote Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen in The New York Times.
It happens this way every time: A big news event in the Trump-Russia investigation takes place, and commentators talk about it as though a house of cards were collapsing or a row of dominoes were falling. Each time, it’s the beginning of the end. Each indictment or plea is the “big one.” And then those expectations are disappointed. The sun rises the next day—in the east, as expected—and it sets in the west, as it did the day before. The Trump presidency endures.
This time it was the new plea deal from Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress, related to how long into the 2016 campaign he pursued building Trump Tower Moscow—and who exactly was aware of his efforts. In the surprise criminal information that formed the basis of his plea, Cohen admitted that, although he had told Congress the project had ended in January 2016, in advance of the Iowa caucus, planning for the project continued well into June 2016. What’s more, a person named in the criminal information as “Individual 1” but identifiable as Trump, along with his family members and his campaign officials, were briefed on Cohen’s efforts along the way. Additionally, Cohen was in contact with senior Russian officials about the matter.
The admission that the Trump Organization was working secretly—colluding, one might say—with the Russian government on a business deal late into the campaign and that Trump knew about this activity led many observers, including those quoted above, to treat this latest plea as the turning point for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But the underlying metaphors are wrong. There is no sudden bend in the path of the investigation. There is no house of cards. The dominoes will not fall if gently tipped. The administration is not going to come crashing down in response to any single day’s events. The architecture of Trump’s power is more robust than that. [Continue reading…]