Trump damages law enforcement by condemning 'flipping' of criminals like Cohen

Trump damages law enforcement by condemning 'flipping' of criminals like Cohen
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE recently condemned the practice of offering leniency to criminals in exchange for their cooperation in an investigation, after his long-time attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea.

"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal," Trump said in the interview. "I know all about flipping, 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go." 

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Trump correctly characterized the term “flipping.” In a manner akin to a crime boss, Trump is furious that someone “in the family,” a consigliere no less, has turned on him. But the president, never one to keep his personal legal problems separate from law enforcement policy, has condemned a long-accepted practice that, in fact, in the past 40 years has led to the convictions of some of the most notorious criminals and corrupt politicians in American history.

Here are a few examples:

  • Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the terrorist Muslim cleric from Egypt, was charged in the mid-1990s with plotting to blow up the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. He was a key witness against the sheik was his former aide, Abdo Mohammed Haggag received leniency from the Department of Justice in exchange for his testimony. Abdel Rahman was convicted and spent the rest of his life behind bars.
  • John Gotti was the boss of the Gambino crime family, one of the most visible, powerful and dangerous crime bosses ever. Gotti was known as the “Teflon Don” because he had been acquitted in three consecutive trials in the 1980s. Then his underboss, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, who had committed 19 murders, 10 of them sanctioned by Gotti, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. In 1992, Gravano’s testimony helped convict Gotti, who died in prison. 
  • Six congressmen and a United States senator were convicted of bribery in the Abscam investigation in the early 1980s (full disclosure: as an Assistant United States Attorney I was a member of the Abscam prosecution team). Abscam, the loose basis for the movie “American Hustle,”would not have been possible but for the cooperation of Mel Weinberg (played by Christian Bale). Weinberg was a first class con artist who was arrested in connection with one of his schemes. He agreed to assist the FBI and used his conman talents to create a sting operation whose ruse was a fake sheik willing to pay bribes to elected officials in return for legislative favors.

Trump must be aware of these cases. They were prosecuted in New York when he lived there and, “30, 40 years I have been watching flippers.” So it’s unlikely that the president spoke from ignorance of the importance of “flipping” to effective law enforcement.

Rather, the comment is part and parcel of Trump’s all-out assault on the Department of Justice, from the attorney general on down, because of the threat it poses to him. He knows that it’s highly unlikely that Congress or the DOJ will ever limit the use of cooperating witnesses. 

Trump’s audience is the voting public, or more precisely, his voters. At some point, some of them, at least, may reach a tipping point where his shenanigans become too much even for loyalists to stomach. Trump will do anything, literally, to stop that from happening, even if it discredits law enforcement in the eyes of many Americans, including prospective jurors in cases involving cooperating witnesses like Michael Cohen.

Trump may yet be evicted from the Oval Office, but the damage he’s done to American confidence in law enforcement may last for a long time after he’s gone. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.