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‘Trump is Cornered and Could Soon Flee the Country’

US reporter Heidi Siegmund Cuda on why Trump’s legal woes could prompt a flight to more authoritarian climes

A mugshot of former President Donald Trump at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Photo: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office / AP

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“If you go after me, I’m coming after you.”—Donald J. Trump

As I sat down to write this, I had just concluded watching the new documentary film on Roger Stone — A Storm Foretold. Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen revealed Donald Trump’s longtime political advisor plotting the ‘Stop the Steal’ operation about election fraud — a reboot from the same narrative he schemed in 2016, as Stone himself noted in the film.

The film also revealed Stone coordinating with leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — who have been convicted of seditious conspiracy and given stiff prison sentences. But most importantly, the film revealed Stone admitting he knew Trump had lost, and then running out of Washington DC — literally leaving the scene of the crime — after the violence began on January 6.

Earlier, Stone said: “F*ck the voting, let’s get straight to the violence.”

And when the violence arrived, Stone departed.

When he learned that Trump did not pardon him for the events of January 6, he was filmed in a rage, vowing to seek revenge on Trump and his family.

I begin with Roger Stone because Trump does not exist as a politician without Stone — who worked with him for 40 years and had plotted multiple potential runs with him for the presidency. Trump also does not exist without his former personal lawyer Roy Cohn — who also represented mob bosses in all five of New York’s boroughs. In addition to mentoring Trump, Cohn also mentored Stone. Cohn taught them the ‘deny, deny, deny’ strategy and to never admit defeat.

In addition, Trump does not exist in his current form without Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager. He took the job working for Trump for free after he had finished installing a Putin-friendly leader in Ukraine — Viktor Yanukovych. It was a presidency that ended with Yanukovych fleeing to Moscow with dozens of his closest associates. He was later convicted of treason against Ukraine.

As today’s mugshots began appearing online of Trump’s closest associates — lawyers Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, and others — indicted for racketeering in Fulton County, Georgia, attempting to overturn the 2020 election results, I was reminded that this was always a mob story.

“All money launderers are fake rich guys,” geopolitical analyst Michael MacKay told Byline Times.

The former reality TV star managed to convince tens of millions of Americans that he was going to make America great again — this is a trope popular with the far-right called the ‘mythic past’. In reality, as I reported in Byline Supplement in The Trumpocene: What We’ve Lost, Where We Go, and How We Get There, the losses that have occurred since Trump was in power are staggering, quite the opposite of great. 

Among what we’ve lost in the US:

Wednesday’s Republican debate, which Trump refused to participate in, was best summed up by podcaster Jim Stewartson:

“Eight of the most embarrassing people in the world clinging to the rotting corpse of a party owned by the Kremlin and dominated by a man with 94 felony charges. The cringe is off the charts”, he wrote.

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Historian and Strongmen author Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote that “it’s no surprise that Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential contender, has declined to participate in the GOP presidential primary debate. That’s how demagogues behave.

“Personality cults posit the leader as a man above all others, and the egalitarian staging and format of debates make them dangerous to his brand. Moreover, authoritarians who depend on disinformation, threat, and corruption (including fixing elections), have much to lose by submitting to spontaneous questioning by a rival or a third party.”

Ben-Ghiat noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin understands this well — refusing to debate opponents and instead offering yearly live call-in shows in which he answers scripted questions.

She said Trump is consumed with the “fear of looking weak”, and that “autocrats see debates as risky to their brand, and leaders who rely on corruption, violence, and lies don’t exactly want to be questioned —least of all Trump, who has multiple indictments hanging over him.”

Mugshots are not exactly marketing material, but Trump — who is following what his mentors taught him — claimed at a Republican Party dinner in Montgomery, Alabama, that he only needs “one more indictment” to win the 2024 election.

Words are one thing, reality is another — and Trump is in the finding out phase.

Among his serious legal entanglements are:

As the mugshots of Trump and his colleagues rickrolled the Western Hemisphere, it’s worth noting that in a recent post on Trump’s social media platform, he wrote: “If you go after me, I’m coming after you.”

This is akin to mob speak. A blanket threat to anyone who crosses him.

Fourteenth Amendment

As Americans grapple with the fact that Trump is planning to continue his run for the presidency while under state and federal criminal indictments and facing the threat of prison, constitutional law scholars claim he has been disqualified from running for president.

Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution notes that leading an Insurrection against an elected Government “automatically excludes from future office and position of power in the United States government—and also from any equivalent office and position of power in the sovereign states and their subdivisions—any person who has taken an oath to support and defend our Constitution and thereafter rebels against that sacred charter, either through overt insurrection or by giving aid or comfort to the Constitution’s enemies.”

In a report in The Atlantic titled “The Constitution Prohibits Trump from Ever Being President Again”, J. Michael Luttig — a US Court of Appeals judge who appeared at the January 6 Hearings — and professor of constitutional law Laurence H. Tribe explained that no criminal conviction is required to activate Section 3.

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“We long ago came to the conclusion that the Fourteenth Amendment, the amendment ratified in 1868 that represents our nation’s second founding and a new birth of freedom, contains within it a protection against the dissolution of the republic by a treasonous president.”

As we have seen the US Supreme Court gain a majority of rightwing activists there is a fear that anything that makes its way up to SCOTUS for evaluation could disrupt the long-awaited action we are finally seeing to bring Trump and his enablers to justice.

As Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Byline Times, “Autocrats come to power to hide their corruption” and “their end goal is always to gain control of that judiciary so that their legal troubles will vanish permanently, no matter what they say or do.”

So it’s interesting that we also learned on Wednesday that a right wing judicial activist — Leonard Leo — who Trump relied on to help select the three Supreme Court justices he appointed — is currently under investigation

Trump chose his three Supreme Court picks, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, from a list drawn up by Leo. The Federalist Society co-chair and a member of the dark money group, the Council for National Policy, Leo — who runs multiple nonprofits — was the beneficiary of a $1.6 billion contribution, the biggest political donation in U.S. history.

“Leo has been in the news lately as closely affiliated with Justices Clarence Thomas and Alito, as the person who networked/arranged vacations for those justices with elite corporate benefactors that resulted in undisclosed gifts including yacht trips, corporate jet use, and campfires around campgrounds in the Adirondacks and Alaskan fishing trips,” retired IRS criminal investigator Martin Sheil told Byline Times.

It’s also worth noting Leo’s nonprofit Judicial Crisis Network spent $7 million blocking the SCOTUS appointment of Merrick Garland — now the US Attorney General who appointed Special Counsel Jack Smith to investigate Trump’s role in the January 6 Insurrection and the classified documents case.

As I noted at the beginning of this report, Trump did not reach the highest office in America on his own. He had help. He was groomed by Manafort and Stone — who ran the ‘Torturer’s Lobby’ — the nickname for their lobbying firm due to a client list that included the world’s most brutal dictators. Trump was taught to work from a strongman playbook, and he turned out to be an excellent propagandist. He also had help from Yevgeny Prigozhin, who ran the online influence campaign in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Internet Research Agency. Prigozhin appears to have perished in a plane crash on Wednesday after leading his military outfit Wagner in a revolt in Russia two months ago.

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When we launched Byline Supplement last year, I ran Trump’s 2024 announcement speech through a side-by-side comparison of Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works and believe it’s important to revisit. 

Too often, the established media gets hung up on what Trump is saying and indeed, parrots him without context in a misguided attempt at both-sides-ing. But what is really useful is isolating the categories he deploys so it lessens the psychological impact.

In Trump Unmasked: A Guide to Becoming a Demogogue, I wrote:

“Over the last six years US media outlets have largely ignored the fact that the GOP has become a deeply authoritarian organization.”

Members of this organization have attempted to overthrow the Government, routinely lied about election outcomes, attempted to radicalize the public. 

With the disgraced, twice-impeached former President Donald Trump now back in the ring, pro-democracy reporters are now facing whiplash, as corporate media outlets continue to platform him, while failing to confront the fact that their outdated ideas of journalistic impartiality are failing the very people they’re meant to serve.

The tactics Trump employs have a well-documented history. Othering, victimization, conspiracy theories, unreality, anti-intellectualism, division, sexual anxiety, the mythic past are all themes which are familiar from our past, as explained in How Fascism Works – The Politics of Us and Them by Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley. 

As Stanley told Byline Times, ‘Stop acting like stuff is new when it is in fact a pattern.’”

In another report for Byline Supplement, The Biggest Loser, I documented the metrics that revealed Trump’s influence is shrinking.

Fight or Flight?

I’ve been thinking about how this story of the Trumpocene ends, and since 2017, I have predicted Trump — who to Putin is just another Yanukovych — will likely flee with 40 of his best cronies to Moscow. Paul Manafort’s clients often run from the bloody revolutions they incited. 

I was reminded of that when watching Roger Stone run from the violent Insurrection back home to leafy Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in The Storm Foretold.

Ex-federal agent Martin Sheil says I’ve got the right idea but the wrong location.

“Russia does not have enough golf courses to keep Donald entertained”, he told Byline Times.

He said the better question to ask is will Trump flee to the UAE?

“Trump owns a golf course in Dubai which is also a leading global money-laundering center,” Sheil said. “So Trump can take his money and his golf clubs to a warm weather safe haven where it is not believed the UAE retains a viable extradition treaty with the US.”

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