I am continually amazed by how timid, reticent or terrified so many of my fellow liberals, progressives and Democrats are when it comes to strictly enforcing the law against Donald Trump.
The most recent example came just this week, when Trump made a blatant social media threat against potential witnesses or co-conspirators whose testimony under oath could send him to prison for a very long time: “If you go after me, I’m coming after you.” His threat was smoking-gun evidence of witness intimidation, in direct opposition to what the arraignment judge in Federal Court in DC, at Trump’s latest arrest, explicitly warned him NOT to do. As a chronic criminal recidivist going back decades, he did it anyway.
When I received my JD from Hofstra University’s School of Law some 40 years ago, it was pounded home to me in every class in criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure and constitutional law, that if you broke the law, you needed to be prepared to pay the price. Direct violation of a judge’s order on witness tampering or intimidation was a sure ticket to getting your bail revoked, and being remanded to prison, ahead of your trial.
I witnessed first hand how that pillar of the law was enforced over and over again in many Mob trials of the 1980’s and 1990’s, concerning members of New York’s Five major crime families. I was particularly familiar with how it was used against the Gambino Crime Family, since my brother was associated with that crew and went to prison for income tax evasion. The law was the law. Break it, and you suffer the consequences. Threaten people involved with your case, and you run the risk of pre-trial detention, since you are a danger to the community. The Mob guys, including my brother, cursed the prosecutors, the judges and the FBI every time they got caught. Just like Trump.
That theoretical purity of consequences for one’s actions was one reason I loved studying the law. In a perfect legal system, neither income, nor level of education, nor family connections, nor race, ethnicity or gender would matter: the law was the law, and should be equally applied. Of course, I knew the real world practice of the law was rarely so pure and simple, but it was the goal of “equal justice before the law,” toward which we could aspire. The law was a beacon of hope for fairness.
It was a big reason I went to work right out of law school with former New York State Governor Mario M. Cuomo, a superb lawyer and public official of impeccable integrity, who revered the law, as much as he did his faith. “The law is the law,” was Cuomo’s mantra, and I took comfort in that clarity.
So, I was surprised when I posted a rather mild statement on social media that “ Trump needs to be locked up NOW and silenced until his trial. He is in violation of every single one of the arraignment judge’s warnings.” It seemed to me to be a straightforward consequence of the action of blatantly violating a judge’s order.
What stunned me was the array of excuses offered by people I respect, ranging from outright cynicism in our judicial system’s ability to “do the right thing,” to oh-so-clever political strategizing of how an arrest would “play into Trump’s hands, make him a martyr, or provoke his vile supporters to violence.” Lost in all of the handwringing was that straightforward Cuomo mantra: “The law is the law.”
If Trump were a young, black teenager from Oakland, who violated a judge’s warning to not threaten any potential witnesses against him, we all knew how fast his bail would be revoked and he’d be thrown into jail. No consideration would be given to political strategy, nor whether his supporters would act violently, or illegally, to protest his arrest.
Lost in all of this mishigas and mish-mash over politics and strategy and Trump’s perceived power over a cult of lawless lunatics, is the well-documented fact that Trump is a wus, when it comes to the enforcement of the law, or raw power, used against him. The Gambino gang, who dealt with Trump regularly in the New York construction trades industry, knew this very well.
In my book, Tightrope: Balancing a Life Between Mario Cuomo & My Brother,” (Heliotrope Books, NY, 2017) I detailed the Mob’s delight in running roughshod over a terrified Trump. Michael Cody, the son of New York Teamster boss and Gambino associate John Cody, told the Daily Beast, as recently as 2016 that:
“Trump was a guy who would talk tough, but as soon as you confronted him, he would cry like a little girl. He was all talk, no action.”
In fact, for John Cody—who was sent to jail for five years for racketeering, extortion and income tax evasion– and his organized crime cronies, Trump was nothing more than an easy mark, a puffed up patsy, and wannabe mobster—terrified of them, and guys like them, who saw jail time as a mere cost of doing business.
Still, I find it astounding that so many good people, who are law-and-order liberals, like me, forget these facts which have been well documented by a long list of credible journalists and prosecutors over the past 30 plus years: Trump is a coward. He talks tough, but always runs from a fight. The louder he whines, the larger another loss looms.
Defendant Trump is, and has always been, both enamored and terrified of real power (legal, political, financial, or physical) and freezes in the face of those unafraid to wield it against him—like Vladimir Putin, Nancy Pelosi, or John Cody. The very thought of prison, and the guys who don’t fear it, reduce Trump to the whining little child he’s always been, since the days he threw temper tantrums in his mother’s rose-colored Rolls Royce, when she chauffeured him to a chic private school.
See how well that image sits in the minds of the low-wage, big-bellied, bearded and tattooed Trump supporters from Idaho, or Alabama, and West Virginia when he tells them to go to jail for him–a coddled, rich brat who always hid behind his mother and his father, or his less-than-ethical lawyers, for protection. The wise guys from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx saw right through his bluster and bravado, and laughed in his crapulent, privileged face.
I suspect that a tough, seasoned and fearless prosecutor like Jack Smith, who has put away war criminals, and a no-nonsense U.S. District Judge like Tanya Chutkan– who has handed down lengthy prison terms to January 6 terrorists —will not be easily fooled or intimidated by such a cowardly, corrupt con man.
Trump may yet learn that jail time, for himself, is just another cost of doing business his way, and that by his own twisted actions and words, he’s made prison inevitable.