All the President’s Men

The list of people sullied by their connection to Donald Trump grows

AP Photo, via NPR

Why do so many people in Donald J. Trump’s orbit get sullied? Some have gone to jail, while others continue to fight charges related to misdoings on his behalf.

The list is extraordinary. It includes Steve BannonPeter NavarroMichael CohenPaul ManafortGeorge PapadopoulosRick GatesAllen Weisselberg and Roger Stone, whose 40-month sentence Trump commuted. Others face prosecution and have been financially ruined (think of Rudy Giuliani and the $148 million judgment against him). Still others, such as former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, have accepted plea deals to testify in cases against Trump.

Of course, some 1,350 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that Trump fomented. More than 800 have been sentenced, according to CBS News, with about two-third getting jail terms ranging from several days to 22 years. Trump calls them “hostages” that he vows to free.

The Shvartsmans and, in tie, their lawyer. Source: AP via The Detroit News

Now, two more names can be added to the roster — even if their connection is tangential. Two Florida men have pleaded guilty to insider trading in a company connected to Trump Media & Technology Group. Brothers Michael and Gerald Shvartsman may face up to four and three years in prison, respectively, and must forfeit $22.8 million in ill-gotten gains.

The pair had been tipped that Trump Media planned to go public by merging with Digital World Acquisition Co., a shell company seemingly created for that purpose, and they traded in DWAC securities and told others to do so, driving up its stock price. While the men were not acquainted with Trump, they were linked to DWAC, according to a richly detailed account in The Washington Post. They profited by its connection to Trump.

DWAC had raised $300 million in an initial public offering in the fall of 2021 after its then-CEO, Miami financier and Trump pal Patrick Orlando, had told people Trump Media was knocking on its door. This was despite the company denying the existence of such discussions in legal filings, according to regulators. DWAC paid $18 million to settle charges related to those denials.

For his part, Orlando wound up tarnished, as well. After he was driven out of DWAC, he claimed in a lawsuit that he was shortchanged when Trump Media merged with the shell company. He unsuccessfully tried to block the merger.

Meanwhile, TMTG’s shares continue to slide. Once worth as much as $79.38 each, the shares closed on April 3 at $48.81. For those keeping track, this amounts to a 38.5% slide for people who bought at the peak. No doubt, this is gladdening the hearts of short-sellers, folks who expect to cash in on the stock price’s fall. As The New York Times reported, citing financial data company S3 Partners, TMTG’s shares are the most shorted stocks in the country. (Short-sellers borrow shares and sell them into the market, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price, before returning the shares to the lender and pocketing the difference as profit, as the newspaper reported).

Are all the people associated with Trump and his new company victims of what Trump loudly calls “witch-hunts?” Are they all targets of persecution by vindictive partisans and the deep state that Trump promises to dismantle?  Some of his followers, infused with a religious fervor, as The New York Times suggested, certainly see it that way. “He’s definitely been chosen by God,” Marie Zere, a commercial real estate broker from Long Island, told the newspaper. “He’s still surviving even though all these people are coming after him, and I don’t know how else to explain that other than divine intervention.”

Ah, the power of rationalization. The list of prosecutions that Trump faces is extraordinary, ranging from charges of election interference and misuse of classified documents to paying out hush money to silence a porn star who claimed they had had sex (that trial is set for mid-April). Of course, he’s already been found liable in civil cases related to business fraud (a $454 million judgment) and sexual abuse ($83 million).

But can all these prosecutions and court actions be baseless, merely the mechanizations of the deep state in revolt against a noble people’s avenger? And, in the face of all of them, how can so many voters be polling in support of Trump against Biden in six of seven crucial swing states, as The Wall Street Journal has reported?

Really, are all these voters blind? Do they not read? Have newspapers been so decimated that former readers don’t have access to the news anymore? Of course, in this age of the Net, such voters must be aware – at least marginally – of the news about their golden boy. The Net makes the news more widely available than ever.

But, stunningly, Trump’s devotees set that all aside. They disregard reports of how Trump sunk a deal to fix the southern border crisis so he could weaponize the issue against Biden. They ignore his record of business failure and his legal woes. They forget his two impeachments. They appear to see only a righteous avatar, a man who speaks to their anger, their fury at social and ethnic change, in some cases their racism. Recall his phrase: “I am your retribution.” And no amount of evidence will persuade them about his deep flaws.

Source: The New York Times

As longtime political consultant Mark Mellman has written, “People don’t change their minds easily, especially about matters wrapped up with their identities.” He cited cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier, who holds that “Any message that clashes with our prior beliefs…is overwhelmingly likely to fall on deaf ears.” 

Before November, still more of the president’s devotees may join the ranks of those who’ve already fallen on their swords for him. Will he manage to avoid a similar fate before the Republicans convene in Milwaukee in July? How much more debasement will our political culture face thanks to him? Unless Trump succeeds in delaying his hush-money trial set to begin April 15, the former president’s resume could soon include a new entry: felon. Will that be enough to disqualify him for the GOP or voters?