As anyone in the U.S. media business knows, August is the slowest news month of the year. Congress is not in session, so policy-makers, lobbyists, reporters, interns, and consultants are absent from Washington, DC, as well. Even tourism slows down, given the insufferable heat and humidity of late summer in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s movers and shakers escape from New York City for their last summer revels in the Hamptons, and newspapers across the country usually run odd stories during this lull that would not rate more than two column-inches the rest of the year. Last Thursday, August 23rd, the Washington Post ran a long story, illustrated with maps and photographs, examining the capital’s rat infestation, noting that the rodent population has surged significantly since 2016, despite the city government’s use of new techniques and equipment to keep the vermin away.
But this was not your usual slow news month story; the rat infestation feature ran just 48 hours after two of Trump’s associates were found guilty of felonies in the span of one hour on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21st. Across the Potomac River from Washington DC in an Alexandria, Virginia, courthouse, a federal jury convicted former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort of eight counts of tax and bank fraud. At approximately the same time in a court in New York City, former Trump lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to paying bribes to two women eager to tell their stories of extramarital affairs with Donald Trump in the lead up to the November 2016 presidential elections, a violation of campaign finance laws. More damning still, Cohen stated that he made these payments “in coordination with and at the direction of Donald Trump,” who has so far denied any knowledge of or involvement in these shady payments.
Adding to the president’s worries, Cohen had evidence in the form of tape recordings to back up his version of events, which have now brought other Trump associates into the New York court’s cross-hairs: Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, and National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker, both of whom have obtained immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving testimony to federal prosecutors. Weisselberg knows every detail of every financial transaction that Trump has made for four decades, and has in the past been studiously silent about anything he might know. Pecker kept a file of “catch and kill” stories about Trump, i.e., stories about the president’s illegal and immoral activities that the National Enquirer bought the rights to and then kept locked away in a safe, never to see the light of day on the newspaper’s pages or website. The tales these two men can tell about Trump are expected to be very damning indeed.
It is not a stretch to interpret the Washington Post’s rat story as a particularly rich tongue-in-cheek commentary on the first two years of Trump’s infestation of the White House. For those who cannot wait to see Trump impeached, the ongoing suspense of wondering what Mueller has discovered has been every bit as enervating as having to read the deranged daily tweets of our narcissistic commander-in-chief. Especially now, with the midterm congressional elections just 100 days away, the anticipation that Mueller would drop a bombshell on Donald Trump that could ensure a Democratic victory in November has been quite high.
So, when these huge news stories broke last Tuesday implicating Trump’s minions and employees in felonious activities, America’s usually sleepy August news cycle jolted into high gear. Nightly news reports devoted their entire programs to analyses of the Manafort and Cohen stories, and hilarious tweets and memes flooded social media platforms for days, slowing down only when news of the death of Senator John S. McCain of Arizona broke on Saturday morning. (But even news analyses about McCain’s passing contained a clear subtext unfavorably comparing the former prisoner-of-war and 2008 Republican nominee for the presidency to Donald Trump, who, by the way, could not be bothered to issue a heartfelt message of condolence to McCain’s family.)
The Mueller investigation has become a key component of the background scenery of the Trump Administration. Opponents of the president have been increasingly impatient to see some results from the investigation, to have some break in the case that hangs over Washington and the nation like a noxious cloud. Did Trump collude with the Russians? Was the 2016 election legitimate? Was Trump aware of the illegality of paying bribes to former mistresses and porn stars? Were campaign finance laws broken? What did the President know, and when did he know it? With Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea, the noose appears to be tightening around Trump’s neck. But, as we learned from the Washington Post’s news feature about the city’s rat problems, rodents are very hard to get rid of, and Trump’s base has not wavered in their support of the president since last week’s legal bombshells. Republicans in the House and Senate are not showing any indications of backing away from Trump, either. The only way to get rid of rats is to starve them, and the only way to get to Trump appears to be starving his associates of their immunity from prosecution.