President Trump: The Company He Keeps

According to Aesop, “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

We Spirited Reasoners would be quick to add that a person should not be convicted of a criminal offense merely because he or she happens to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That could amount to ascribing guilt by association, an unfair conclusion that has been used by witch hunters and kangaroo courtroom judges throughout the ages.

But Aesop is not talking about putting anyone in jail. He is talking about a person’s reputation. He is stating the simple fact that reputations are based upon the quality of one’s social relationships. That’s why I think it’s fair to evaluate the character of President Trump based upon the company he keeps.

Let’s examine a list of Trump associates who have been making news in recent months. Note that this only the short list consisting of close advisors. It does not include those individuals who are yet to face indictment. Nor does it include those whose trials have yet to come to court. Nor does it include individuals from other countries, especially Russia, who have been indicted for the commission of crimes.

  • Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March of 2016 and served as campaign manager from June until August of 2016. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He was found guilty on eight additional criminal counts and surrendered his license to practice law. On August 10, 2017, President Trump had this to say publicly about Paul Manafort: “I know Mr. Manafort — I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time, relatively short period of time. But I’ve always known him to be a good man.” [Side note here: Although one could argue that the period of March through August of 2016 was a “very short period of time,” it could also be argued that these included some of the most crucial months of the presidential election campaign.]
  • Rick Gates, deputy to Paul Manafort during the Trump election campaign, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements, then was sued by his attorneys for failure to pay legal fees.
  • George Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign advisor, was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the F.B.I. regarding his contacts with Russian intermediaries.
  • Michael Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Advisor, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the F.B.I.
  • Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, became closely associated with Trump’s business ventures in 2006. He gained the reputation for being Trump’s “pit bull,” going after anyone who opposed the decisions of the Trump organization. He gained publicity for making $130,000 in hush payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to the F.B.I. and was sentenced to two months in prison.

In the case of the President of the United States, I believe it is fair to offer the following three options to explain Mr. Trump’s choice of personal associates:

(1) He innocently chose friends and supporters who were willing to engage in criminal acts on his behalf.  

OR

(2) He knew full well that criminal acts were being committed on his behalf, but though he did nothing to stop them, he did not actively participate in them.

OR

(3) He ordered, or otherwise actively participated in, the illegal activity.

Choosing the first of these gives President Trump the maximum benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, Spirited Reasoners would conclude that even if we choose option number one, there is something peculiar about a President who surrounds himself with so many people of this type. Is it really possible for such an astute businessman to “innocently” choose such company?

I agree with Aesop. I look at Manafort, Gates, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Cohen, and I get a sense of the kind of man President Trump must be.

What about other Presidents whose associates were convicted of crimes? I cannot recall a single President since Nixon where so many advisors have pleaded guilty.