Desperate men do desperate things; two leaders facing corruption charges may more aggressively push their Iran regime change agenda â Larry Wilkerson joins Paul Jay.
Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkersonâs last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powellâs Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Departmentâs Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.
PAUL JAY:Â Welcome to The Real News Network. Iâm Paul Jay.
The testimony of Michael Cohen to the House Oversight Committee was a very revealing look into the state of Americaâs political culture. One could talk about it for a long time, but it was perhaps at the very end of the hearing, when Cohen does his final statement, the most chilling contribution was made. First hereâs how he started things off. I know everyoneâs heard this so many times by now. But hereâs a little bit from his opening statement.
MICHAEL COHEN:Â I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trumpâs illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.
I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.
PAUL JAY:Â Cohen, under questioning and in his opening statement, laid out some specific things that lead one to conclude that Donald Trump broke the law. They seem to have President Trump on bank fraud and various kinds of tax evasion. There is an argument that goes that a president canât be indicted while heâs in office. Well, hereâs what Cohen suggestedâthat if Trump loses the election in 2020, perhaps he wonât leave office.
MICHAEL COHEN:Â Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.
PAUL JAY:Â Now joining me to talk about that, and other parts, other things that fall out of the Cohen testimony, is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON:Â Good to be with you, Paul.
PAUL JAY:Â So what do you make of that? Heâs talking about what, that thereâll be an election. He loses the election, or there will be something staged, perhaps, that might lead to not having an election. What do you make of what Cohen says?
LARRY WILKERSON:Â This was not a surprise to me because about a year ago in the Senate when I was working on the preliminary lobbying efforts to get the United States out of the war in Yemen, I encountered a senator whoâa long-serving senator of the Republican Partyâwho asked everyone to leave his office. He asked me to ask my people to leave. And he asked his people to leave, including his chief of staff. And he said, I have a question for Col. Wilkerson. It calls on his military professional expertise.
So they all left, and we were alone in the office. And he looked at me and he saidâlooked at his watch, and he said, Iâve got to go vote in a few minutes. But I want to give you a scenario and ask you a question. The scenario is this. Letâs say that we come on the midterms and lose one or both the Houses. And letâs say that after that, the articles of impeachment that even now are being crafted in the House by, largely, the Democrats, if not exclusively Democrats, they become something that Republicans, my party, is interested in. And all of a sudden we move towards that. And hereâs the scenario. We go over to the White House with the leaders of Congress, both parties, just as they did, basically, with Richard Nixon after Watergate. And we say to the president âYou have two choices, Mr. President. You can suffer these very powerful articles of impeachment. We guarantee you youâll be removed from office, and after that weâll prosecute you and your family to the full extent of the law, which is perfectly legal. Or hereâs your alternative, Mr. President. You can resign, as Richard Nixon did, and we wonât prosecute you or your family. You have a choice.â
I said, OK. That doesnât sound like all that implausible a scenario to me. And the senator said, yeah, but hereâs my question to you. Trump wonât leave, and he calls to the streets his legions. And as you know, his legions are the most well-armed legions in America. In fact, his base owns probably 75 to 90 percent of the guns in America. And the FBI will tell you that. Whatâs the military going to do? the senator asked me. My response I wonât share with you, but it was a very, very serious response. And it vouchsafe to talk about the military, the constitutional crisis, and other things.
PAUL JAY:Â Well, that was, that was actually my next question: What would the military do? Because itâs not just about people in the streets, because if the police and military play any normal role, I donât think Trump has that kind of force in terms of, you know, people with guns and such. But if he uses, you know, quasi-legal constitutional means, what does that mean? That thereâs a staged event like some kind of terrorist attack, or some other kind of national emergency thatâs used as an excuse not to have the elections, or not to implement the results of the elections. What would the military do? And it seems to me if Trump is in any way entertaining these kinds of ideas, he better make sure that the leaders of the military are his people. So my question is: Are they?
LARRY WILKERSON:Â Now, this is the dilemma. And what youâve just painted is not really, I think, a part of reality. The reality would be that others would see through a declaration of a national emergency, or even a declaration of war; even if it were to order the military to deploy to places like Iran, or North Korea, or whatever. Because I think the leadership would refuse. The leadership of the military has a bifurcated loyalty, if you will. Not just mentioning the Constitution, which is the ultimate loyalty, but theyâre loyal to the legislative branch, which is basically that branch which commissions them and approves their stars, and the executive branch.
So when youâre talking about the leadership under a scenario like this, a declaration of a national emergency clearly aimed at deflecting attention from the president, or keeping the president around longer than the statute legislation says for the elections and so forth, is in my view nonsense, because the military would never adhere to that. Theyâd never follow that. Theyâd go straight to the Congress. And the Congress would turn it over, I hope. Even my Republican idiots like Mitch McConnell in the Senate would see the dire necessity to take action there, and wouldnât allow their lust for power and money to overcome totally their desire to keep the Republican tack. I hope. Notice I say âI hope.â
PAUL JAY:Â Well, that was my next question. Because when you look at those hearings with Cohen, at least the Republicans on that committee, and some weâve heard who werenât on the committee that are agreeing with them, the, I donât know, complete overt, banal partisan defense of Trump, and attempting to destroy the character of Cohen, which one understands to some extent, but zero interest in what seems like rather overt corruption, that these guys seem to beâhave decided theyâre either theyâre going for bust with Trump, that theyâre so worried about being primaried by Trump forces and that Trump seems so powerful within the Republican Party. I mean, CPAC is on now, and every speaker, virtually, is a love letter to Trump, including Lindsey Graham, who used to be a big critic of Trump.
Like, if we can have these conversations, and obviously a year ago a Republican senator was already thinking this through, well, obviously theyâre thinking it through, and coming to the conclusion that theyâre not even giving themselves some plausible deniability to distance themselves from Trump.
LARRY WILKERSON:Â But thereâs political space here, Paul. Thereâs still political space. I wish there werenât, but there is. And letâs face it, Cohen destroyed himself. The Democrats and others attacking him, Republicans or Democrats, or whatever, they didnât hurt Cohen. Cohen destroyed himself. And his credibility is suspect here. The reason that we can say we believe most of what he said, I donât think itâs based on Cohenâs character. Itâs based on, I think, a growing and sure knowledge of Trumpâs character. The man has lied over 8,000 times from the bully pulpit of the presidency of the United States. This is a foul character we have in the White House. Thereâs no question about that. There are people in his base who understand that, but cling to him because he promises them things like the reversal of Roe v. Wade, like a homophobia unprecedented. He promises them these things, and so they cling to him in some desperation, now.
When all this comes to a head, when he calls, as it were, someone to the streets, armed or unarmed, when he tries to linger, I think the institutional architecture of this country is going to rip his guts out, and he will no longer be president. If it doesnât, Iâm moving to New Zealand forthwith.
PAUL JAY:Â You better do it quickly, because the New Zealanders have already made it illegal for foreigners to buy property because so many billionaires are buying up property in New Zealand.
LARRY WILKERSON:Â Got my tickets. I have some contacts in the MFAT in New Zealand from my days at the State Department.
PAUL JAY:Â So what do you make of this supposed precedent or legal thinking that a president canât be indicted while in office? I mean, letâs go back to the hearings, first of all. Hereâs Ro Khanna aboutâwhere it appears Trump is really cornered. Letâs play that clip.
RO KHANNA:Â I just want the American public to understand the explosive nature of your testimony in this document. Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the President directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg, and his son Donald Trump Jr., as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud? Is that your testimony today?
MICHAEL COHEN:Â Yes.
PAUL JAY:Â So if thatâs correct, and apparently in these hearings theyâre going to build this argument out even more, they have him on, essentially, bank fraud; lying to Deutsche Bank to get some big loan to buy the Buffalo Bills. And hereâs AOC, where thereâs the potential issue of avoiding real estate taxes.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:Â According to an August 21, 2016 report by the Washington Post, the President claimed in financial disclosure forms that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida was worth more than $50 million. He had reported otherwise to local tax authorities, that the course was worth âNo more than $5 million.â Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?
MICHAEL COHEN:Â Itâs identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:Â To your knowledge, was the President interested in reducing his local real estate bills? Tax bills?
MICHAEL COHEN:Â Yes.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:Â And how did he do that?
MICHAEL COHEN:Â What you do is you deflate the value of the asset. And then you put in a request to the tax department for the deduction.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:Â Thank you.
PAUL JAY:Â So all these things, I believe, are being pursued by the prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, which is not under the control, directly, of the White House or the DOJ. They canât really stop that prosecution. Where does it come that he canât be indicted for this? Thatâs kind of bizarre, given the whole American revolution was supposed to be about not having a king.
LARRY WILKERSON:Â Specifically in this case I think if you look at the real world, and particularly the real political world, the world of the United States being, if you will, the worldâs security and foreign policy financial and economic leader, you say to yourself, well, if you could indict a sitting president that would be a horrible precedent, because politics being what it is, particularly today, youâd be doing that all the time. And the president would have no time to run this vast empire that we put together. And thatâs a real world argument that I would entertain.
At the same time, I think itâs a 50/50 purely legal, nowâjust purely legalâitâs a 50/50 case as to whether or not this can be done. And ultimately the Supreme Court would have to be the 51, put it on the side of the majority and say yes, it can be done, or it canât be done. And I think thatâs remotelyâa remote reality here with Trump. I think what weâre going to see is weâre going to see him removed from office through constitutional means before 2020, or weâre going to see him removed by the election in 2020. I donât know which it will be. I suspect the latter. But itâs going to be that way. And then the crunch comes. Does he depart peacefully? Does he leave and go back to his television, and so forth? One wonders. Because you just pointed out why he might not leave, in a very, very realistic sense. Heâs going to jail for the rest of his natural life. New York will see to that.
You know, Paul, I have never met a New Yorker to this dayâand I spent some time in New Yorkâwho likes Donald Trump. They hate him. They hate his guts. The taxi drivers. The sedan drivers. The restaurant owners. The bar owners. The people in New York, they hate Donald Trump. That ought to tell you something about Donald Trump.
PAUL JAY:Â Let me add one thing to this, because I donât think we can look at this just from the point of view of Trump and his own vulnerability here. But Netanyahu in Israel is in the midst of his own scandal up to his eyeballs. The thing that might save him from going to jail is if somehow he can win the next election and create the same kind of scenario, that are you really going to put a sitting prime minister in jail? So thereâs a convergence here. And add to that the John Bolton factor and the forces he represents who want regime change in Iran, and have wanted it for more than a decade. Will they give up this chance, the Trump presidency, of a moment in history where they may get the play out this very aggressive agenda which theyâve not been able to implement before on Iran?
So Trumpâs in such a predicament. Netanyahu, the Bolton agenda, which is also very much the Netanyahu agenda, to try to have regime change in Iran, it seems to me you put it all together and weâre in a hell of a dangerous period over this next two years. And again, at the very beginning of our conversation, I think a lot of this is going to come down to how does the leadership of the American military respond to all this? And two, does he start to significantly change who is the leadership of the American military?
LARRY WILKERSON:Â That would be a dire sign, if that were to take place. I mean, beyond Jim Mattis, for example. But your scenario is one that concerns me. I think it is the most likely adverse scenario to develop. And youâre right to point at both capitals, Jerusalem and Washington. That Netanyahu would do something, even before the election, or after the electionâs taken place and the results are adverse, to make it appear to the Israeli public that heâs essential, like starting a war with Iran. And dragging the United States into it, dragging John Bolton into it, as youâve intimated, willingly, and several other neoconservatives in the administration, or close to it. That worries me. That a wag the dogâyou know, the tail wagging the dog scenario, that does present, to me, a possibility. Not a probability, but a possibility. And thatâs worrisome.
PAUL JAY:Â All right. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON:Â Thanks for having me.
PAUL JAY:Â Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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