Monday was likely one of the worst days of Michael Cohen’s life, and he had it coming. Connected to a variety of scandals ranging from Russia to Stormy Daniels, the president’s personal lawyer saw his office and hotel room raided by the FBI. To boot, we learned that Cohen allegedly keeps bobble-heads of President Trump’s eldest sons on his desk. He likely won’t be embarrassed by that bit, so deep runs his loyalty to Trump. Cohen told Vanity Fair last fall, “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” Cohen is afflicted by the same generic bravado that Trump has seeping out of his pores, pulling his macho act whenever it’s time to stick up for his boss or threaten journalists. But as much as he seems to consider himself a friend of Trump’s, Monday made it very clear that he remains merely an employee.
The president addressed the raid at the start of his scheduled meeting with officials at the White House to discuss responses to Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical attack on his own people. Trump really only stuck up for Cohen once: “So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys – a good man.” The “they” Trump was referring to? Federal authorities who had a warrant. “It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time.”
This is where he pivoted to talking about himself, and stayed there through the remainder of one of his signature rants. The act has been tired for a while now, but Trump delivered this performance at an extraordinary moment. But if you pick through his word salad, you will find the meat. The raids are a very big deal, as is the president responding as if he and his friends are above the law. As long as Trump denies knowing about the $130,000 Stormy Daniels hush-money or shouts “No Collusion!” loud and often enough, he operates as though the field is unbalanced against a wealthy, white, straight president. “This is really now on a whole new level of unfairness,” Trump told reporters. (For reference, “unfair” is Alabama handing out a 65-year prison sentence for an 18-year-old for the death of a friend who was killed by the police.)
Trump argued that these lawful raids – vetted and authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – were “an attack on our country.” That’s in a different zip code than “witch hunt,” the term Trump used on Twitter early Tuesday morning after claiming incorrectly that “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Trump once again tried to nationalize his own problems and ethical issues, an authoritarian staple if there ever was one. Later, he intimated that he has not ruled out the possibility of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But even if he does, the investigation will continue in Mueller’s absence. The president’s intellectual laziness is well known, but even he should have bothered to learn that.
All told, Trump’s rant was rather flaccid, considering the stakes. He is lashing out, perhaps, because he realizes that even Michael Cohen might not go to jail to keep him clean. And as alarming as his rather traitorous comments could sound to the untrained ear, it was just more of the same: manic worry and anxiety from the guy who could be bombing Syria today and meeting North Korea’s dictator in the next several weeks. That last part is what has me nervous, if anything. I doubt Americans by and large care more about whether Trump is angry than whether he is competent. Now would be a good time for this president to remember that words still mean things, despite his best efforts.