So Long, Russia. And Thanks! Democrats have always known that Trump’s business was his real vulnerability.

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So Long, Russia. And Thanks!  Democrats have always known that Trump’s business was his real vulnerability.
Published 7-09-2018, 11:58

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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Two of his closest associates have been convicted of federal felonies. Surely impeachment is on the agenda next. But not if the subject is Andrew Cuomo, Democratic governor of New York. 

Last month, the architect of Mr. Cuomo’s billion-dollar upstate development plan was convicted of bid rigging. In March, another former aide, a longtime confidant whom Mr. Cuomo’s father once referred to as a third son, was found guilty on bribery charges. Somehow we feel sure the New York Times nonetheless will be endorsing Mr. Cuomo for re-election in the fall. 

You didn’t need to get five words into the latest calls for Donald Trump’s impeachment to discover it’s over the same objectionable qualities that we’ve heard about for three years. Michael Cohen’s payments to Stephanie Clifford and Karen McDougal are a pretext. 

At least it isn’t Russia. This turning of the page is sad for Craig Unger, author of a just-released book about Mr. Trump’s business history, full of sentences like "we do not know exactly when the KGB first opened a file on Donald Trump.” Or how about his description of Oleg Kalugin, the 83-year-old ex-KGB agent living in the U.S. who knows nothing about Mr. Trump, as "a master of the tradecraft that was used to ensnare Trump.” 

Such sentences are exercises in the fallacy of begging the question—presuming the truth of an unsubstantiated claim. Unfortunately for Mr. Unger, Mr. Trump’s enemies are throwing aside their Russia crutches. Mr. Trump’s longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, has received immunity from a federal prosecutor in New York. No, this does not mean every Trump tax return, loan application, conservation easement or cash transfer now will be scrutinized. But it could. And smart Democrats have known all along that Mr. Trump’s businesses are his real vulnerability. 

The sad face that Mr. Trump made on election night after winning, it’s easy to believe, was born of a realization. Nobody has an incentive to invest unreasonable sums of time and money to create legal jeopardy for a loser. A president is different. And Mr. Trump is a fat target. Bill Clinton involved himself in one real-estate deal in his life. Imagine a Whitewater a week for 40 years. 

To this columnist, it was inevitable that Mr. Trump’s past would come into collision with our vast regulatory state, which can find something on anybody if it looks hard enough, even somebody more scrupulously honest than Mr. Trump. 

Harvard law professor and Bloomberg contributor Noah Feldman positively chortles that the Cohen plea now invites the U.S. attorney in Manhattan to seek more crimes and eventually to "indict the Trump Organization itself and seize assets derived from criminal activity.” 

I wonder how this might play in the possibly more nuanced mind of Manafort juror Paula Duncan, who was capable of both appreciating that Paul Manafort was guilty and realizing that the government prosecuted him only because of his connection to President Trump. 

Donald Trump, by a Manhattan mile, was better known than any presidential candidate in history—his personal life, his business life, his tics, his mannerisms. A bit dull are those pundits who have spent the past three years flogging and reflogging his demerits as if they discovered them. To anybody with historical imagination, the telling fact was that the American people elected him anyway. They put him in office with a clear democratic will to see how this unusual experiment runs. 

While it would be problematic to assume voters gave Mr. Trump a pass for prior crimes, it’s equally problematic to launch a hunt for crimes that didn’t seem worthwhile to the myrmidons of the state before he was elected president. 

It also behooves us to take a fresh look at how different Mr. Trump really is—or perhaps better said, in what way he is different and what way he is not. Friday’s headline in the Washington Post, "Trump undermining legal system, critics fear,” has that born-yesterday quality to anybody who’s been paying attention the past few decades. Half of America surely will recall hearing an FBI chief say that Hillary Clinton violated the law in relation to her official duties and it wasn’t worth prosecuting. 

The risk of going down this road, thankfully, will be limited as long as Republicans remain a sizeable power in the Senate. A vote to convict after impeachment would be unlikely unless GOP voters themselves decide Mr. Trump has betrayed their cause. 

What we’re also going to learn is that even if the federal government is paralyzed for the next two years, even if our politics is more deeply embittered, Mr. Trump can flourish in such an environment. 

In the meantime, goodbye to Russia. You served your purpose. Vladimir Putin’s effect on the 2016 election, we can now admit, was trivial—his real influence has come almost entirely through the willingness of U.S. combatants to exploit Russia in pursuit of their own power ambitions and vendettas. 

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