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What Should Team Biden Do About Trump?

Plus, Michael Cohen on whether his former boss will run for president again.
May 18, 2021
What Should Team Biden Do About Trump?
Donald Trump points to the press while walking to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on November 29, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty)

I don’t think the Biden administration sees it coming.

While the president’s surrogates keep us up to date on the state of the pandemic and the other crises and problems the White House has to confront on a daily basis, Donald Trump appears to be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

I’ve heard some version of “We’re too busy dealing with governing” from more than one high-ranking administration official recently. “There will be nothing said about Trump coming from this office,” a senior White House staffer told me on Friday.

In part, the Biden team feels it can pay little heed to Trump because of his disappearance from social media. He is no longer sucking all of the oxygen out of the room with his fascist buffoonery as he once did. Yet he remains firmly in charge of the Republican party, which continues to act as if the insurrection of January 6 never happened—or never ended. He has cooked up a partial workaround for his ban from social media: putting out blog posts several times a day that sound as if they were written by—well, either Donald Trump or a spoiled teenager with boundary issues. Those posts are widely circulated and discussed by his followers. He continues to insist on the Big Lie: “Just look at the facts and the data,” he wrote over the weekend. “There is no way he (Biden) won the 2020 Presidential Election.” Last week, still insisting that the election results should be overturned, Trump sounded as if wanted to march into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and take back the West Wing himself: “If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned.”

And as Mona Charen and Kimberly Wehle noted here last week, the window for mobilizing effectively against the GOP’s lies and anti-democratic maneuvering is closing. “If Republicans somehow get control of one or two chambers of Congress in 2022,” commentator Kurt Bardella said on MSNBC on Monday, “I guarantee you in 2024, if they don’t like the results of the election, they will not certify them and they will create a constitutional crisis, the likes of which we have never seen.”

Some in the Democratic party think the fight is done and they won. But, they keep forgetting one critical point: Had there been no pandemic, chances were very good Donald Trump would have been re-elected in 2020. It literally took an act of God to deny Donald Trump a bid at re-election. (That alone should be enough to drive the evangelicals out of Trump’s corner.)

Ultimately there is one thing that will stop Trump, according to Michael Cohen: the Donald himself. Cohen calls his former boss a “rabid dog” who “took no responsibility as president” and wants unlimited power. “Look, he doesn’t want to run again. He wants to be anointed. The adulation of the crowd is his oxygen,” Cohen told me recently for an episode of my “Just Ask the Question” podcast.

Cohen remains convinced that Trump will not run for office again—and not because he doesn’t want the trappings of power.

“He’s going to be indicted,” Cohen said.

While Trump’s former fixer has, according to his own account, spoken more than a half-dozen times with the prosecutors investigating Trump, he won’t confirm or deny he’s spoken before a grand jury. The recent raids on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s home and office, and other actions by prosecutors, have convinced Cohen that Trump may soon be indicted. The New York Times reported last week that Manhattan prosecutors subpoenaed the records of an Upper West Side private school, seeking information on payments Trump made on behalf of longtime chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg. Weisselberg isn’t accused of wrongdoing, and Cohen said it’s not about him. “Taxes. It’s about taxes,” Cohen explained. “Don the con is going down.”

Meanwhile, Politico reported last week that, as the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation enters its final stages, Palm Beach County law enforcement officials are figuring out what to do if Trump is indicted in New York while living in Florida.

Extradition issues aside, if Trump is indicted, Cohen believes he’ll go back to the “hoax” and “witch hunt” rants that always dominate when he’s caught doing something wrong. “He’s going to be wrapped up in litigation for a long time,” Cohen said.

That eventuality is enough to explain why Biden and others in the Democratic party are loath to mention Trump at all: They believe the law will take care of the problem.

That is shortsighted. Even if court troubles do take the ex-president out of the political picture, he is only the immediate problem. Who takes over once Trump is gone? The GOP has proved itself untrustworthy. There isn’t anyone in its top ranks worthy of leadership; most of them shouldn’t even hold elected office.

The proposed independent commission to study the January 6 insurrection is a necessary first step toward accountability before Republicans rewrite the history of that day as a unicorns-and-rainbows love fest. The GOP must be held accountable. Trump must be held accountable.

There is a point beyond which President Biden can’t stay silent—when he must step up and address his predecessor’s dangerous, anti-democratic behavior. Biden will need all the alacrity and ingenuity he summoned to tackle the coronavirus.

Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine. He successfully sued Donald Trump to keep his press pass after Trump tried to suspend it. He has also gone to jail to defend a reporter's right to keep confidential sources.