Witcover: Trump's self-defense goes from ludicrous to bonkers

As Donald Trump labors to turn away the Justice Department's efforts to rein in his criminal behavior, he has now gone from to the bold to the ridiculous.

His latest notion is that it should be illegal for prosecutors to induce the cooperation of canaries like his former fixer, Michael Cohen, who apparently has been spilling the beans on his illegal behavior. His reasoning stands justice on its head.

A prime investigative tool in the hands of DOJ and FBI operatives is the ability to induce such individuals to sing to save their own hides. Such so-called "flippers" are themselves in jeopardy of serious jail time for their own misbehavior and hence are willing to give testimony.

The old axiom that there is no honor among thieves is itself a motivation for law-enforcement officials to squeeze these denizens of the underworld as a means of extracting from them the provable goods on other suspected legal quarry.

Mr. Trump in his lament provides a good imitation of a small child's complaint that "it's not fair" when caught in some act of malfeasance, large or small.

Concerning the phenomenon of real or potential targets of prosecutors "ratting" on colleagues or clients in acts of self-preservation, Mr. Trump told his very friendly "Fox and Friends" television interview show the other day:

"For 30, 40 years, I've been watching flippers. ... It almost ought to be outlawed. ... (I)f somebody defrauded a bank, and he's going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail, but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump, and you can go down to two years or three years, which is the deal (Mr. Cohen) made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. ... They just make up lies."

Well, Mr. Trump may be unfamiliar or uninformed on many matters of state, but he certainly understands how the shady underworld of reputation-protecting and self-defense works in the American justice system.

If indeed the president has been "watching flippers" all his life, he should have seen the "betrayal" of Mr. Cohen coming. No wonder there was much speculation that Mr. Trump might pardon his old fixer to assure his clamming up, regarding all things he knew.

Mr. Trump's latest defense lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giulani, may have warned his client of dire political consequences of any transparent attempts to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russian elections meddling investigation, including firing him.

Pardoning Mr. Cohen or any other prospective "squealers," as they say in the gangland movies, almost assuredly would have dropped obstruction of justice charges smack-dab in Mr. Trump's lap.

Even Mr. Giuliani, in bending over backward to find an out for his client, had this to say about flipping: "When it's done right, it's fine," he told the Washington Post. "It's one of the tools prosecutors use. Then it's tested by a jury."

The chances of Mr. Trump beating the raps against him now will probably depend on fellow Republicans bailing him out if it comes to articles of impeachment in the House or trial in the Senate.

So far, many remain unwilling to buck Mr. Trump's loyal party base. But his continued blatant disregard of the old GOP commitment to rule of law ironically leaves him at the mercy of his cronies in the corrupt world in which he has lived all his life. Their testimony in the end could well be the undoing of his presidency.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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