FEAR OF FIRE

To the delight of headline writers everywhere, a man named David Pecker turns out to be the editor of the National Enquirer and other trashy tabloid media outlets. We learned this last week when Mr. Pecker (snicker) was granted immunity in exchange for, presumably, answering questions about Donald Trump.

My father spent nearly three decades as a prosecutor. I enjoy having conversations with him about criminal investigations, high profile trials in the media, etc because he always seems to know what is going to happen. And over time he has confirmed all of the prosecutorial cliches about criminal matters – the foremost among them being that individuals refusing to testify against their colleagues in crime is almost entirely a creation of fiction writers and Hollywood. In real life, "First to talk, first to walk" applies almost without exception.

Trump seems legitimately upset about some of the people – including attorneys, former legal counsel, and fellow celebrity gossip column types whom he probably thought really, unironically were his friends. Oddly enough, all of these people like Pecker most likely are sincere believers in Trump and allies in whatever the Great Man has done throughout his life.

But here's the thing: just like all animals are innately afraid of fire, I believe all humans are innately terrified of prison. David Pecker probably never had any intention of spilling dirt on Trump, but I'd be willing to be David Pecker also never thought of himself as a person who might be charged with a serious crime. Unlike, say, a drug trafficker or a murderer who knows he/she has broken the law and is potentially in very deep shit, a lot of these white collar types live in a fantasy world in which nothing they have ever done is wrong. Or, more charitably, they may sincerely be unaware of white collar laws they've violated.

So here's David Pecker, Trump ally, sitting in a conference room somewhere with his high-priced lawyer and ten Federal prosecutors. The Feds explain to him, calmly and coldly, that they have enough evidence to charge him with a grab bag of felonies – violating IRS or SEC reporting requirements, for example. The kind of technical-details crimes that I'm assuming most of the truly wealthy could be charged with if some prosecutor were willing to dig hard enough.

And now David Pecker, Trump ally, who has lived a wealthy and "successful" and immensely privileged life and is now an old man, is for the first time in his life picturing himself in prison. Or even simply picturing himself in a courtroom facing the remote possibility of prison. It must be, in a way few of us can appreciate first-hand, terrifying. I believe without judgment that all of us would do just about anything to avoid going to prison. Because going to prison seems fucking horrible, minimum security white collar prison or not.

And so he talks. As soon as immunity is offered he jumps on it without a second thought, encouraged enthusiastically by his high priced attorney. What seems like yet another example of the total absence of loyalty among the rich is, in the cold light of reality, a natural reaction to a set of circumstances you or I would react to identically. If they were face to face, I have no doubt that Pecker could tell Trump without lying, "I like you, Donald, but I can't go to prison to protect you."

Everybody talks. And I understand completely why everybody talks, because I have no illusions that I would do the same thing in similar circumstances. I don't think that makes me a bad person; I think it makes me a human being who is afraid of things that are horribly unpleasant.

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26 thoughts on “FEAR OF FIRE”

  • "Trump seems legitimately upset about some of the people – including attorneys, former legal counsel, and fellow celebrity gossip column types whom he probably thought really, unironically were his friends."

    As monsterzero pointed out, except I think it started when he complained about the size of his mother's breasts*…

    When the only friends and loyalty you can get are purchased–it's a sellers market.

    It will be nice if it becomes a wholesale sellers-out market.

    * after having tweeted about their perfection, moments earlier.

  • Yes, but. I think sometimes it depends on what you feel you must do in order to be able to live with yourself. Civil rights protesters and HUAC victims went to prison rather than betray others or their cause. Whereas, as Trump, Pecker, et al prove, there is no honor among thieves. It remains to be seen whether Trump will sacrifice anything for his children.

  • Much like Mike Flynn, they probably spent some time dwelling on the culpability of his adult children or grandchildren that undoubtedly work somewhere in his firm.

  • Umm, yeah. Which is why I have been assuming Manafort has been keeping his mouth shut NOT out of "loyalty" to Trump, but out of fear of some evil Russian oligarch.
    I wouldn't go to prison to keep most people out of prison, especially if they seemed to deserve it. But I'd go to prison for the rest of my fucking life if I thought the alternative was the deaths of my children. Manafort has, I believe, two daughters.

  • In much the same way that much of what we think of as inherently traditional about Christmas was just invented whole-cloth by Charles Dickens, so much of what we think of as standard criminal behavior was invented by Mario Puzo. All the shit about omerta and the code of honor among organized crime families is such wildly fanciful horseshit that Puzo, bless him for doing so, made up because it made for more compelling stakes/characters than the reality, which is a lot more Goodfellas than Godfather. But just as the real-life mobsters began to adopt the style of dressing and talking that Puzo's mobsters displayed, the Trumps and Manaforts swallowed the notion of criminals being "just decent guys who had to cut a few corners to get ahead" and "only other bad guys get hurt–families and innocents are kept out of the line of fire"–the whole notion of crime as something that isn't that bad, really, which Puzo himself knew was bullshit casuistry (Coppola also picked up on this) and exposed it as such, but which dumb people (and, as we know from real life and from Elmore Leonard, most criminals are very dumb indeed) think is an honest-to-God justification for doing objectively horrible things.

    So of course Pecker, et al. pull shit like this–they think the world works like The Godfather, and wow, what a shock it must be for them to find that, no, in real life, the capos die in prison because the bag man didn't give a fuck about an 'honor' that was never a thing in the first place.

  • Of course, Paul Manafort is the exception that proves the rule. However, I don't think he's motivated by any loyalty to Trump per se, but by his own cocksureness that he will beat the rap because Mafiya Don will pardon him. No doubt, Donnie Two Scoops will try. (It's not as good a strategy as he thinks, though, as I'm sure your Dad can attest. Once the pardon happens, he's then pretty much bound to testifying to a grand jury as to his involvement in the Russian Affair as it won't incriminate him anymore.)

    Dishonest Don is trying to rig the game in the only way he knows how – throwing his now-considerable-although-diminishing-rapidly weight around, like a poorly dressed John Gotti impersonator. The catch is that every door he tries to slam on potential prosecutors just opens two more, and more people are flipping on him than he can try to squeak a loyalty oath from and prevent giving evidence against him. The GOP doesn't really care about their own power (in their view, it really resides with their billionaire sugar daddies anyway), so long as they have their own little satrapies and get paid to be a rubber-stamp for Trump (or whoever); so they're fine with Trump getting away with murder so long as they're not caught up in the gears seriously, and will do whatever they can to throw sand in the gears of the FBI to investigate them for corruption, now or in the future. Loyalty is as loyalty does. Seig heil and PTL!

    I think the rubber really is gonna meet the tarhead when one the Hellspawn of He Who Infests The Resolute Desk (or their mates) are indicted or named as a "person of interest". Then we will see if even his own flesh and blood will stay loyal when faced with a nice all-expenses-paid trip to Club Fed. Again, handing out pardons like party favors may not help Trump. Hopefully, that'll happen before November – even if he figures out a way to can Mueller by then, the Democrats (presuming they get majorities in the House) can just bring back the entire investigation with a vengeance in January.

  • That makes what Susan McDougal did even more amazing. For refusing to confirm Ken Starr's charges against Clinton, she got 18 months in prison, including 8 months in solitary, and each time they brought her in to court, she was chained in wrist and ankle shackles.
    And after her 18 months for civil contempt of court, Starr charged her with 'criminal' contempt.

  • I'm a middle-class white guy with a middle-class white family. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and went to a middle-class school. And owing mainly to a drinking problem and miserable attitude I found myself in court twice in the span of 3 months in my 20's, the second time for petty assault.

    The first time in court, I was pretty confident that even my overworked public defender was going to get me a punishment that wouldn't rise above 'pain in the ass'. The second time, though, my different overworked public defender pointed out to me that 30 days was a real possibility.

    30 days in county jail doesn't really seem like much, because it's really not on paper I guess, but I will say this — in real life the prospect is fucking terrifying. Everyone thinks they will be John Gotti, smiling carefree no matter the verdict. In reality, you're picturing 'how do I tell my family I'm going to jail for a month' and 'holy shit I'm never going to get a job' and 'if I get in a fight I'm probably going to get my ass kicked and it will really hurt'. It's scary. Even that little amount of time behind not-really-bad bars.

    I will guarantee you that the Cohens and Peckers (heh) of the world when suddenly facing actual jail time will sweat. Hard. It's scary, and none of us are really as 'hardcore' as we think we are in our daydreams.

  • Prosecutors offer immunity as a way of removing road blocks to gathering useful testimony. If you are granted immunity, you no longer can exercise your Fifth Amendment protection under examination and are compelled to answer.

  • Pecker is not a friend of Donald; he’s a convenient tool for burying inconvenient scandal information for a price. He has done this for a lot of prominent people – hence that famous safe. Pecker’s company owns the National Enquirer so Pecker is very familar with lowlife skeeves and sleazeballs. Of course, he doesn’t want to risk a court trial and possible prison sentence but I doubt he even batted an eyelash at divulging the dirst on Trump.

    Oh and by the way, Trump has no friends. Extreme narcissists are incapable of actual friendships.

  • Hi Ed, I just became a burgher, why is the Patreon button not prominent on your website? Had to search, went to Buy Stuff (it's not there either, but I improvised). Did I miss something?

  • I agree: everyone talks. I think it's important to note that everyone is also guilty of something. Of many somethings. This is maybe less obvious if you're white and above the rising poverty line but it's true for all of us. When the prosecutors decide we're guilty, we mostly roll over and plea guilty and don't even bother with court anymore, judicial branch be damned. So everyone is guilty and everyone talks. That seems to be the motto of the miscarriage of justice department these days.

    Regardless of political partisanship, doesn't that bother anyone else?

  • Townsend Harris says:

    Want to know how much jailing you can tolerate? Get yourself arrested a few times defending your political beliefs. And one time defrauding your best friend's employer.

    Seven arrests in four states before my 23rd birthday, multiple charges: trespass, violating court injunctions, disorderly conduct, possession of marihuana, fraudulent use of my best friend's Conrail pass (50% discount!). The judges either adjourned all charges for a year while contemplating dismissal, or had their injunctions overturned in federal district court. (Thank you, Jerry Cohen, general counsel to Chavez's United Farm Workers.)

    Railroad cops were the worst, badly wanting me to implicate my best friend the rank-and-file labor activist. When the cops caught me, I knew I'd have to pay for using his card, and I spent a weekend in jail waiting for Monday's arraignment. The local judge thought three nights was more than enough punishment for trying to steal discounted travel on Amtrak.

  • I've been in jail, overnight a couple of times.

    It kept me from being able to join the RefucKKKliKKKlansmen Partei.

    Aside from the fact that I didn't do a "nickel" for refusing to rat out a plutocretin or two, I was unable to hold a Bic lighter under the palm of my hand without screaming like a little college Yurfie*–so no G, Hardon Little Brotherhoo award. I shudder to think of how loud I might have screamed if the lighter had had fuel in it!

    * Young RefucKKKliKKKlansmen fuckhead Idiot

  • defineandredefine says:

    @ drew – absolutely! The whole criminal justice system, from front to back, is broken and seems to be in a way specifically designed to fuck with minorities and keep poor people poor. To your specific point, I remember someone talking about plea bargains and how often they're applied to legit innocent people…I think it was John Oliver? So I think these sort of mundane aspects of criminal justice reform are starting to get more traction, maybe?

    @ Major Kong – yeah, that's about what my interactions have been as well…except for the noise complaints. Oh and that time I was pulled over on suspicion of stealing gardening supplies. But never got more than a ticket, which is pretty good considering my skin tone and white-flight neighborhood I grew up in.

  • Some years ago the blood donation centers started asking if I had been in jail for more than 72 hours. Not sure exactly why they ask that question but have a strong hunch it's a question for which the best answer is 'no'.

  • In my experience it depends on personal sentiments, attachment to others implicated, and how far a fall prison represents. I grew up in a neighborhood where most adult males had been arrested and many had done time for either felonies or misdemeanors. Due to their poverty most of them were comfortable doing more time if the value added up. No one would have wondered how to explain it to their family – that's a white and middle class problem.

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