President Trump’s latest legal problems have little to do with special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice.
When Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations–in the course of paying off a porn star and a Playboy bunny with whom Trump had affairs–he said that he did so at Trump’s direction. And directing someone to commit a crime is said to be itself a crime, a matter of being a co-conspirator.
But Trump reimbursed Cohen for the cash. So was this really a contribution if it was just a cash flow issue with the candidate’s own money? Candidates can spend however much of their own money in an election. That Trump did so, as he now agrees, contradicts what he said earlier, but not telling the truth is not a crime, unless it’s under oath in a legal deposition. But now it turns out that the president apparently didn’t report the amount he actually gave Cohen in his financial disclosure documents, which can also be a crime.
Cohen’s case is separate from those being prosecuted by Mueller. When in the course of an investigation a special prosecutor finds evidence of other non-related crimes, those can be sent by “referral” to a prosecutor in the relevant jurisdiction. That’s what happened with Cohen. But now Cohen is reaching out to Mueller’s team, offering to give evidence of a “conspiracy to collude” with Russia on the Trump’s collusion with the Russians.
In addition to Cohen, other long-time insiders with Trump and his business dealings are turning against him. These include his company’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who has been granted immunity, as has his friend David Pecker, who heads the tabloid National Enquirer, which would buy up the rights to stories about Trump’s sexual escapades, whereupon it would refuse to publish them, thus preventing anyone else from doing so.
But whether you consider all of this a high crime, a misdemeanor, a pretext, or a witch hunt, the President’s problems are intensifying.
Even if Mueller’s Russia investigation ultimately draws a blank, Trump may find himself in legal jeopardy from these kinds of financial charges. (Such as those his former campaign manger Paul Manafort was found guilty of. For example, he was convicted for disguising $900,000 from an offshore account as a loan so that he wouldn’t have to pay taxes on it. He received millions for advising the pro-Putin party in the Ukraine, which raises the question, why did Trump have an unregistered Ukrainian agent as his campaign manager?)
As a Republican lawyer with White House ties said, the Cohen plea gives Trump’s enemies a basis, justified or not, for filing impeachment charges. “It’s the only excuse they’ll need,” he said. “And believe me, they won’t need much of an excuse.”
This makes the midterm elections a referendum on impeachment. Those who support Trump and those who aren’t crazy about him but do not want the country to go through the trauma of an impeachment trial need to turn out in vast numbers to vote for Republican congressional and senate candidates. Trump’s opponents are already showing signs of turning out in force.
If the House of Representatives goes to the Democrats, impeachment proceedings (which must be initiated in the House), I think, will be a certainty. But the trial would be in the Senate, and I don’t see how two-thirds of that body–even if the Democrats would win a majority–would vote to impeach the president.
Do you think these offenses, even if they turn out to be proven, are sufficient grounds for impeachment? And even if they are, are they worth the ordeal for the country?
Photo: “Trump Executive Michael Cohen,” by IowaPolitics.com via Flickr, Creative Commons License