“You see the mob takes the Fifth.”
-Donald J. Trump
Of the many weird and factually challenged statements Donald Trump has made over the years, it is hard to beat his self-flattering favorable comparisons, to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president who merely preserved the Union and freed the slaves, for sheer audacity. But, after Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege 440 times during the course of a deposition taken yesterday as part of the civil investigation conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia James into Trump’s historical propensity to value his real estate properties at a low price for tax purposes and a high one to obtain loans, maybe it is time to make a more accurate historical comparison: to fellow Queens strongman, John Gotti, the original Teflon Don.
Gotti, who ascended to the head of the Gambino crime family after arranging the murder of Paul Castellano outside Sparks’ Steakhouse in 1985, managed to avoid conviction of multiple criminal acts, mostly through bribery and witness tampering, was done in when he was “ratted out,” by Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, at his trial for the murder of Castellano. He was finally convicted and died in prison at the age of 61 in 2002.
Trump is continuously portrayed in the press as “in legal peril,” currently due to, not only James’ investigation, but the concurrent, although seemingly moribund Manhattan DA’s examination of possible criminal charges based on the same set of facts that James is reviewing. Not to mention the Atlanta Grand Jury’s probe of Trump’s now infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won this state.” And then there is the little matter of Trump’s role in undermining the electoral process through the proposed use of illegal slates of electors in disputed states and his incitement of the January 6 riot, which was, let’s call it accurately: an insurrection intended to overturn a duly held election solely to retain his position of aspiring autocrat.
Trump must at least be sweating, given his change of opinion on a strategic use of the Fifth in his deposition. He also can’t be happy about the FBI raid on his sacred domain, Mar-a-Lago, apparently in connection with his likely illegal retention of classified presidential records. And, as icing on the cake, a federal appeals panel ordered him to give up his tax returns to a Congressional panel, a move he has resisted, as much because of possible illegalities they may show as the potentially embarassing possibility that they reveal he is not as wealthy as he claims.
But, with each effort to bring him to justice (he is sure to forever hold the presidential record of being impeached twice), Trump only gets bolder. Despite the damning testimony before the House January 6 Commission of a man desperate to hold onto power by any means, and utter incompetence (or indifference) for his failure to act for 187 minutes during the Capitol siege, Trump expertly plays the victim of “the greatest political witch hunt in history.” He fails to see the hypocrisy in this claim as he constantly harped on his own Justice Department’s failure to criminally investigate Hillary Clinton, Obama and Biden.
One can only imagine a future Trump Administration and a Republican Congress with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (“Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar”). It took a fellow creep like Sammy the Bull to finally bring the original Teflon Don down. Who will finally cause Trump’s undoing? His former consigliere, Michael Cohen, failed to do so, and it is not likely to be Trump’s loyal accountant, Allen H. Weisselberg, who faces his own extant tax charges, but so far has proven as loyal to his boss as Capone’s accountant, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, was to him.
But, sooner or later, the law surely will catch up with Trump in one way or another. As FBI New York office assistant director James Fox, said at the time about Gotti’s conviction: “[t]he don is covered in Velcro, and every charge stuck.” When it happens, we can also hope that Trump’s Velcro stripes will make him look thinner.