Recently Jim Comey is being quoted frequently regarding his comment that Trump’s team reminded him of the mob. The Washington Post analyzed the comparisons including loyalty oaths, trusting only “family,”  and an us vs. them worldview among others.

Now that one of Trump’s lawyers Michael Cohen is under investigation and likely indictment, people are taking bets on whether or not he’ll flip, also citing mob references. Comparisons are most often made to “Sammy the Bull” Gravano whose testimony brought down John Gotti, then head of the New York Gambino crime family likely because of the NY connections of everyone involved.

What the comparisons fail to discuss is the key contrast between Trump and Gotti. It’s a huge difference and extremely disturbing. It boils down to two words: The Government.

Related Post: We Are All Enrolled in Trump University

It was the Government that flipped Gravano to testify against Gotti. It will also be the same government office – Southern District of New York — that will be indicting Cohen  at some future date. Although the office is known for its ethics and career prosecutors, Trump’s team appears to want to create inappropriate inside connections to this and government offices. It’s because for now, for better or worse, he is the Government and he seems to like to stack the deck in his favor.

Just three months into his presidency, Trump fired  Preet Bharara, the then US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  It’s important to note that Trump Tower, the seat of Trump’s business empires, is in the jurisdiction of the Southern NY District office.

According to Bharara, the dismissal was predicated by Trump trying to foster a more personal relationship including getting Bharara’s personal contact info.  The U.S. Attorney reports directly to the Attorney General and, as part of the Justice branch, has offices completely separated from the Executive branch.

Boundaries, Checks & Balances

There are no boundaries in the mob, and Trump seems to lack an understanding of boundaries as well, which is concerning as he now leads a government distinctly created to have checks and balances. One of those checks is the separation of offices. Yet, it appears checks on the Executive Branch are not as deep as those on the other two. It basically comes down to three things – overriding vetoes, impeachment, and enforcing the law (Supreme Court decisions).

At the Southern District of New York’s office, Bharara’s acting successor, Joon Kim, was also asked to step down and on April 25, 2018 was replaced by Geoffrey Berman, a former law partner with Rudolph Giuliani.  Berman’s appointment creates concerns both because of his ties to Giuliani, a Trump insider, but also due to his affiliations with Deutsche Bank, involved with various Trump lending and business dealings. And so the web thickens or does it?

Berman, similar to Jeff Sessions above him, recused himself from the Michael Cohen case. He is expected to recuse himself from any Deutsche Bank cases should they arise. As much as Trump believes in personal loyalty and only putting loyalists in key positions, professionals have professional integrity, especially when the very nature of their roles is based on an understanding of ethics, boundaries, and maintaining both the reality and appearance of objectivity.

Preet Bharara believes in the integrity of the Southern District of New York. We hope he’s right. We hope ethics prevail in the long run, but in the short run, the White House sure seems like it’s helping to decorate today’s versions of Capone’s prison quarters.

Photo Notes: Header photo above is a picture of Al Capone’s trumped up quarters in Eastern State Penitentiary, during his stay there in 1929. He was only incarcerated for a few months and afforded every possible luxury including a radio and lamps. While other inmates were paired up in cells with cots, Capone was clearly connected both interally and externally with a fairly fine corner office.


Potential Little Hinge Action Steps:

  • Read Why Trump’s Dismissal of Preet Bhara Matters in the Atlantic.
  • Listen to Preet Bharara’s first show with Leon Panetta, White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton. The show title is That Time President Trump Fired Me.
  • Check out resignations of concern including Walter Schaub as Government Ethics Director and Chuck Rosenberg as Chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration to learn why they felt staying in their posts was untenable.
  • Volunteer on pending mid-term elections for candidates you’d like to see bring more balance to the Legislative branch.
  • Get a copy of Exit, Voice and Loyalty, the 1970 classic by Albert Hirschman that was required reading during my years at the Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship. The subtitle “Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States,” summarizes the premise of what you can do in a difficult work environment, and if Loyalty and loyalty oaths aren’t an option, you only have two others.
  • Visit Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It’s an amazing day trip and gives you new perspective on social justice and the U.S. penal system. You’ll see Capone’s quarters for yourself.