Long before he was president there were thousands of stories about how irritating Donald Trump could be, beyond his signature line – “You’re fired!” One of the oddest of those stories, long forgotten now, concerns Trump World Tower – 845 United Nations Plaza, just across the street from the General Assembly Building. If you’re in the city you can’t miss it – it was the tallest residential tower in the city when it was built – an 861-foot-high seventy-two story (ninety floors according to Trump) black glass monster, towering over everything.
It was quite an erection, in all senses of that word. What Trump did in 1999 led the city to revise every zoning resolution they had. The problem was that the thing was erected “as-of-right” – within the existing zoning and building regulations, so it didn’t require approval by all those pesky city agencies. Trump had assembled a whole lot of small contiguous lots and transferred their development rights to that stretch of First Avenue – no one had thought of that before. And then he just built the giant building. Nothing was approved by anyone. Naturally the project pissed off everyone there in Turtle Bay, and they fought him, trying to block construction. But they lost. And then the city rewrote the zoning rules – no more swapping minor miscellaneous development rights with no hearings at all – but it was too late. Trump just grinned and sneered at his neighbors.
One of those neighbors was Walter Cronkite, the retired anchorman for CBS News. In 1999 Cronkite told the New York Times that it wasn’t just him – the protest against this monster was “supported by a whole lot more less-than-wealthy folks, who are sharply offended by the unnecessary grossness of this project.” Cronkite lived in a fancy apartment on the twenty-fifth floor at 870 United Nations Plaza across the street – with neighbors like Truman Capote and Johnny Carson and Bobby Kennedy – and his view of the city disappeared, so this was personal. But Cronkite was also right – everyone hated the thing. It was a big fuck-you to the city.
It was finished in 2001 – no one could stop Trump. Now, if you want to live in this monster, and sneer at others too, you can buy a three-bedroom unit in the building for between twenty million and thirty-five million dollars, depending on your taste, or lack of it. A small one-bedroom, for minor sneering, will cost you at least two million, or more. It’s a Trump thing. It took a lot to piss off avuncular and mild-mannered Walter Cronkite. It took Cronkite two or three years to say, sadly, on national television, that the Vietnam War was simply unwinnable and it was time to admit it and ease on out. That seemed to take forever, but Cronkite got there. With Trump it took him ten minutes.
That’s probably Trump’s appeal. It’s his trademark sneer. It gets to people. The conservative right wanted to borrow that from him, and did, but New Yorkers have long memories. They don’t forget a sneering cheater. They’ll get him for that. They took a break while was president. Now he’s not. The Washington Post broke the story. Donald Trump’s past is catching up with him:
Manhattan’s district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges, according to two people familiar with the development.
The panel was convened recently and will sit three days a week for six months.
They may have already deposed both his sons, his daughter, and his chief financial officer. He’s in trouble:
The move indicates that District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has reached an advanced stage after more than two years. It suggests, too, that Vance thinks he has found evidence of a crime – if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company.
Vance’s investigation is expansive, according to people familiar with the probe and public disclosures made during related litigation. His investigators are scrutinizing Trump’s business practices before he was president, including whether the value of specific properties in the Trump Organization’s real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies, and if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation.
The district attorney also is examining the compensation provided to top Trump Organization executives, people familiar with the matter have said.
So, that’s bank fraud, and tax fraud, and bribing key people to keep them quiet, if Vance can prove that. But that may be a long and tedious process:
Adam S. Miller, who served as deputy bureau chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office before entering private practice in 2011, said such a “special grand jury” is “certainly not an uncommon thing to do with a large, technical and complicated investigation.”
“It’s really for very complicated cases that have a lot of information for a grand jury to digest,” Miller said, noting that a special grand jury’s term can be extended with a judge’s approval.
But they’re onto something:
Rebecca Roiphe, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who is now a professor at New York Law School, said that such investigations are always formally overseen by grand juries. In the early stages, prosecutors may use a grand jury’s power just to subpoena documents without offering charges for consideration.
Roiphe said the recent step of seating a long-term panel shows that Vance’s investigation has progressed to the point that prosecutors will visit the grand jury, present evidence and witnesses, and potentially ask that charges be considered. Prosecutors were unlikely to take that step without believing they had evidence to show there was probable cause to believe someone had committed a crime, she said.
“The prosecutors are convinced they have a case. That’s at least how I read it,” Roiphe added.
Things don’t get this far, and cleverly leaked to the public, unless this seems to be an open-and-shut win for Vance, and it’s not all that complicated:
Trump is facing two investigations of his business practices in New York. Both appear to have begun with the same man: Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and attack dog, who turned on Trump after pleading guilty to making hush-money payoffs on Trump’s behalf and lying to Congress.
Vance’s criminal investigation began in 2018, after Cohen pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the hush-money payoffs, made in the last days of the 2016 campaign to women who said they had affairs with Trump years earlier – allegations the former president denies. Vance’s investigation soon expanded, as the district attorney sought to examine millions of pages of Trump’s tax records.
Michael Cohen knew all about that, all the shady estate stuff. Along the way he had purchased two posh units in Trump World Tower. He’s sold them now, and he’s talking:
Separately, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) began a civil investigation of the Trump Organization in 2019 prompted by Cohen’s testimony to Congress, where he said Trump had misled lenders and tax authorities with manipulated valuations of his assets. Asset values were inflated at times when the company was seeking favorable loan interest rates and were deflated to reduce tax liability, Cohen has alleged. He has been interviewed extensively by Vance’s team, which has added a decorated former federal prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, to help with the Trump case.
Trump, however, now hates that New York woman:
Trump has attacked both investigations, pointing to comments by James during her 2018 election campaign in which she called him an “illegitimate president” and promised to investigate his family business. Trump has never been criminally charged. No former U.S. president has ever been charged with a crime.
He’d be the first. That really angers him:
Former President Trump lashed out Tuesday after it was reported that a grand jury was seated to weigh any criminal evidence against him and his company and decide if indictments should be issued.
“This is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” Trump lamented, referencing other investigations into Russian election meddling.
“No other President in history has had to put up with what I have had to, and on top of all that, I have done a great job for our Country, whether it’s taxes, regulations, our Military, Veterans, Space Force, our Borders, speedy creation of a great vaccine (said to be a miracle!), and protecting the Second Amendment,” he added. “This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it’s being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors.”
Almost 82 million voters voted the other way. What about them? But it doesn’t matter. He just spun this news into political gold. The was a gift to him. This will fire up his base. This will enrage his base. No other President in history has had to put up with what he has had to, and after all the wonderful things he has done, and he really is president now, not that Biden guy. His base will want to fix all this. They will want revenge! Cyrus Vance just fired them up. Convict him of anything and it will be total war, to restore him to the throne.
His base is ready for that. A new Ipsos poll shows that:
56% of Republicans believe the election was rigged or the result of illegal voting, and 53% think Donald Trump is the actual President, not Joe Biden. Only 30% of Republicans feel confident that absentee or mail-in ballots were accurately counted, compared to 86% of Democrats and 55% of independents. As a result, 87% of Republicans believe it is important that the government place new limits on voting to protect elections from fraud. Finally, 63% percent of Republicans think Donald Trump should run for President again in 2024, compared to only 8% of Democrats and 23% of independents.
Jennifer Rubin breaks this down:
If 53 percent or 56 percent of Republicans actually believe something that is patently false, one party suffers from delusional thinking. There is no way to “understand” MAGA voters, nor is there is any possibility of reaching political agreement with them. They are beyond the bounds of rational political debate. Those who comprehend how dangerous such delusions are in a democracy must break away from them, not enable them to win elections.
If, however, GOP voters know in their heart of hearts that the “big lie” is nonsense (i.e., they know Biden won but do not like it and want to indulge in their resentment), then Republican politicians have made a tragic error in taking their voters literally. (There is some support for the “they’re just ‘owning the libs” interpretation of the survey results, because Republican voters apparently think the Senate and House results were legitimate.)
If Republican officials believe they have to play along with fantastical thinking to stay in power, then they may be misreading their base. They are not following the herd, but rather radicalizing more voters and incentivizing a segment of the population to engage in further political violence. Republicans might also be boxing themselves in to a future in which they cannot accept political defeats.
And now Trump may go to jail. If Republican officials believe they have to play along with that, as a great injustice because Trump cannot have done anything wrong, no matter what any jury in any court says, because now the courts don’t matter anymore either, they are asking for trouble. And then there’s 2024:
The other consequence of either true or feigned belief in the “big lie” is that the GOP may wind up renominating its unelectable presidential candidate whose national approval rating remains somewhere in the low 30s and who lost the White House, the Senate and the House. While a blowout of the Republican Party sounds inviting for defenders of democracy, no one should kid themselves: Should Republicans nominate the person who instigated the Jan. 6 insurrection, there is little doubt he would do the same if he loses again.
In short, if he loses, he still wins:
At some point, it does not matter whether GOP voters and politicians believe the “big lie” or are simply rationalizing their Dear Leader’s defeat. The result is the same: incitement of violence, undermining confidence in democracy, justification for voter suppression and a crisis of legitimacy for whoever wins.
This is chaos. But that may be the plan. Trump does have an acolyte. The New York Times’ Catie Edmondson reports on her:
House Republican leaders on Tuesday broke nearly a week of silence about comments by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia comparing mask and vaccine mandates to the treatment of Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust, condemning her language but stopping short of punishing her.
The slow response by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, to Ms. Greene’s string of anti-Semitic statements reflected the reluctance of top Republicans to take on the first-term congresswoman, who had previously endorsed violent and racist conspiracy theories and whose combative style has made her a favorite of former President Donald J. Trump and his far-right supporters.
He loves her. She’s him. His base loves her. Everyone’s picking on her too. And she terrifies McCarthy and all the rest. He knows he needs to be careful. Attack that other woman. Trump hates her:
The Republicans’ reaction was a contrast to their swift ouster this month of Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whom they forced from her leadership post after she enraged her colleagues by vocally repudiating Mr. Trump’s election lies.
Instead, Mr. McCarthy issued a sternly worded statement that rebuked Ms. Greene but also referred to “anti-Semitism on the rise in the Democrat Party” and made no mention of further consequences.
Yes, some Democrats did say that the Palestinians had point in the recent short war. McCarthy tossed that in to make everything all better, but Greene did goof up:
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust to wearing masks is appalling,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The Holocaust is the greatest atrocity committed in human history. The fact that this needs to be stated today is deeply troubling.”
His statement was quickly followed by condemnations by the other two top House leaders and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, who denounced Ms. Greene’s statements as “outrageous” and “reprehensible.”
And then everyone shut up. It was too dangerous to say more. But she is a problem:
The congresswoman’s latest remarks, in which she said that employer-mandated proof of vaccination was “just like the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear a gold star,” highlighted the political vise she has created for Republicans.
Stripped of her committees by Democrats and bringing in eye-popping fund-raising totals each time she stokes controversy, Ms. Greene appears to have grown emboldened to engage in increasingly brazen behavior, disdainful of her own party’s leaders and eager to capitalize on the next firestorm of her own making.
On Tuesday, just after Mr. McCarthy scolded her, Ms. Greene retweeted – and then quickly deleted – a post calling him a “moron” and “feckless,” using an expletive for emphasis.
He didn’t fight back on that. He doesn’t dare fight back:
Mr. McCarthy, who declined to strip Ms. Greene of her committee assignments for anti-Semitic and violent statements she made before she was elected, has remained loath to punish her since she came to Washington, in part for fear of elevating her platform and also to avoid alienating voters enthralled by her conspiratorial brand of politics.
He’s trapped, trapped with this:
In the past week, Ms. Greene has continued to equate universities barring unvaccinated students from attending classes in person to the Holocaust and referred to four progressive congresswomen – all women of color, two of whom are Muslim – as “the jihad squad,” equating their vocal critiques of Israel’s government and support for Palestinian rights to anti-Semitism and backing for Hamas.
Republicans on Tuesday quickly tried to shift attention from Ms. Greene’s comments to Democrats, whom they have tried to paint as insufficiently supportive of Israel, introducing resolutions in the House and Senate condemning anti-Semitism.
Democrats will gladly support and vote for those resolutions. Anti-Semitism is bad. And, by the way, those Palestinians have a point. What? Nothing is working:
The condemnations by Republican leaders came after a rebuke from the Republican Jewish Coalition, a prominent organization whose political action committee contributes generously to the party. Matt Brooks, the executive director, called Ms. Greene “an embarrassment to yourself and the G.O.P.”
“Please educate yourself so that you can realize how absolutely wrong and inappropriate it is to compare proof of vaccination with the six million Jews who were exterminated by Nazis,” he wrote on Twitter in response to one of Ms. Greene’s broadsides.
But the Democrats are still the bad guys:
Mr. Brooks – who recently pinned a message on his Twitter feed imploring voters to remember in November that “there is only ONE pro-Israel party” – said in an interview that party leaders had responded appropriately to Ms. Greene’s comments.
They only scolded her, but that was fine with him. Still, there’s this:
Ms. Greene has a long history of bigoted and violent statements. Citing Mr. McCarthy’s refusal to act, Democrats moved to strip her committee assignments this year because of a series of social media posts she made before she was elected, in which she endorsed assassinating House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ms. Greene was also a prolific writer for a now-defunct conspiracy blog, writing posts with headlines including “MUST READ – Democratic Party Involved with Child Sex, Satanism, and The Occult,” and arguing that the 2018 midterm elections – in which the first two Muslim women were elected to the House – were part of “an Islamic invasion of our government.”
She also suggested that a wildfire that ravaged California was started by “a laser” beamed from space and controlled by a prominent Jewish banking family.
Ms. Greene has only become more strident. Unmoored from the normal strictures of congressional committee work, she has railed against liberals and the so-called RINOs she sees leading her party in Mr. Trump’s absence on right-wing television and radio shows. She has held rallies with Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, who is being investigated by the Justice Department for alleged involvement with several young women who were recruited online for sex.
Matt Gaetz may end up in jail serving ten years for sex-trafficking a minor. Donald Trump may end up in jail for tax fraud and bank fraud. What do Republicans do in 2024 to win back the White House? Marjorie Taylor Greene it is. She’ll be the last of them not in jail, the last “Trump” standing.
Still, Cyrus Vance has made Donald Trump a martyr. Maybe he can run from jail in 2024. Marjorie Taylor Greene can be his running mate.
How will America vote?