The Trump Organization is a criminal enterprise, and Donald Trump is the capo di tutti capi. Hearing Michael Cohen’s depiction of Donald Trump’s behavior vis-à-vis his role as head of the Trump Organization was in no way surprising. Actually, there was a single element of Trump’s behavior that I found surprising, and it was that he “speaks in a code,” which is something that I generally presume to require at least a faint understanding of subtlety, which is not something I intuitively associate with him.
To the greater point: speaking in code does not mean Trump didn’t order Cohen and others to act illegally. Indeed, the whole point of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, yes RICO, was to close a loophole in which crime bosses were immune from prosecution simply because they instructed underlings to do things like “show our friend a toasty evening in” (read: torch his house), or “he scratched my back, now it’s time we scratched his” (read: make an illegal payoff), but not actually commit these crimes themselves. With RICO, crime bosses are the target, and it doesn’t matter if they speak in code, or didn’t commit the crimes directly.
“RICO” accusations are, unfortunately, popularly hurled at people in a way not dissimilar to how a chimpanzee hurls its feces at the zookeeper, which is to say, to make a stink. No matter how hard you try, RICO doesn’t apply to your rival business owner who told his son to go bash in the windshield of your new truck. People try to use it often and, as a consequence, it’s not always taken seriously.
But it really seems like RICO applies to Trump regarding his conduct at the Trump Organization. Take a look at this article from the Daily Beast and get a feel for it yourself. The question that remains then, is what does this mean for the Trump clan? Given the traditionally aggressive nature of the Southern District of New York, where it appears they’re mounting a RICO case against the Trump Organization, it might mean the end. The Trumpocalypse. Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Weisselberg, and other top Organization officials could be charged by prosecutors citing the statutory requirements for RICO given the galaxy of crimes they’ve committed over the years.
Building a RICO case against Trump is virtually certain, but herein lies the big problem. Is SDNY able to charge Trump while in office? I think so, and not only because of the shaky and borderline misinterpreted grounds upon which we have a Justice Department policy of not indicting a sitting president. Think of it this way, from the perspective of the government servants at SDNY whose job it is to protect the people from criminals: do you knowingly let an active crime boss lead a nation of 325 million? Are we serving the people by letting this continue? Let’s see if SDNY can get something to stick to this Teflon Don. I’m hopeful.
Democracy thrives in snarkiness