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The National Interest: Jonathan Chait
The White House's Godfather Fantasy If the Trumps are the Corleones, that makes us the marks.
By Jonathan Chait

“DO A FRANK PENTANGELI.” That’s what Donald Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone urged an associate who was set to testify against him to do, according to a federal indictment. During the 2016 campaign, Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks, which had obtained stolen Democratic emails from Russian hackers through an intermediary named Randy Credico. In 2017, Stone falsely testified to Congress that he had no records of his discussions with Credico. When he learned Credico planned to testify, he texted and emailed him on multiple occasions, once counseling him to “start practicing” his Pentangeli. “You should do Pantagela [sic] on Erin Burnett,” Stone wrote soon after.

Pentangeli was a capo of the Corleone family in The Godfather: Part II who planned to testify against Michael Corleone but was threatened into changing his mind and ultimately committed suicide rather than rat out the boss. Recently, prosecutors asked to show a clip of the film to jurors in Stone’s trial for charges including witness tampering and making false statements to Congress. Stone’s lawyers objected on the grounds that screening the scene “will instantly create a connection in the minds of the jurors that Stone is somehow similar to a murderous mafioso.” Mercifully for Stone, the judge denied the motion, but will permit prosecutors to share a transcript of the scene.

Stone’s case underlines a principle that’s long been clear: It is impossible to understand the Trump administration’s cast of characters, their lingo, and their governing ethos without a working knowledge of La Cosa Nostra and its Hollywood lore. If the Kennedy administration created Camelot, the Trump presidency has built a kind of cultural gangster state. The Francis Ford Coppola films are a classic piece of 1970s-vintage social criticism, presenting gangsters as stylized heroes and legal authorities as villains. “My father’s no different than any other powerful man,” Michael Corleone tells his future wife, Kay, “like a senator or a president.” When she calls him “naïve,” saying, “Senators and presidents don’t have men killed,” he devastatingly retorts, “Who’s being naïve, Kay?” The most satisfying scene in the sequel is one in which Michael is extorted by a corrupt politician and calls out his hypocrisy to his face.

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October 28–November 10, 2019

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