The big news late last week was the sentencing memo the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York submitted in regards to Michael Cohen’s guilty plea. The office basically said that Cohen’s cooperation was worth little, but it went beyond Cohen in laying out for what Hot Air colleague Gabriel Malor calls a “road map” for indicting Trump:
The prosecutors say that payments Cohen caused to be made to two women who say they had extramarital affairs with Trump were “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. (Trump denies that these alleged affairs occurred, and says he did not know about the payments when they occurred.) The SDNY’s sentencing memo thus implicates Trump in at least three crimes.
First, it is generally unlawful for a corporation to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with an election to federal office. Cohen pleaded guilty to causing such an unlawful contribution by American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer.
According to court documents, Cohen coordinated AMI’s purchase of the “limited life rights” of former Playmate Karen McDougal’s claim to have had an affair with Trump, and did so for the purpose of influencing the presidential election. This last detail—that it was done for the purpose of influencing the election—is what makes this a campaign contribution and not a garden-variety services contract. Also, prosecutors’ claim that Cohen did it at Trump’s direction would, if true, make Trump as guilty as Cohen.
Second, it is unlawful for an individual to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with an election to federal office in excess of certain amounts ($2,700 in 2016). Cohen pleaded guilty to making such a contribution by paying $130,000 for onscreen prostitute Stormy Daniels’ silence. Just like the McDougal payment, the SDNY prosecutors say this payment was for the purpose of influencing the election and done at Trump’s direction. Again, if true, that makes Trump as guilty as Cohen.
Third, regardless of source or amount, presidential campaigns must disclose all contributions in regular filings with the Federal Election Commission. In the sentencing memo, the SDNY’s prosecutors lean heavily on the fact that Cohen structured these payments to foil “one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency.”
Mandatory disclosure laws exist so the American public can assess who is funding political candidacies. Cohen concealed these contributions as services contracts and by using a shell corporation—which, by the way, is further evidence that he knew he was breaking the law. If it was done at Trump’s direction, as alleged by the SDNY’s prosecutors, that’s another crime.
Is that the case? IANAL, and so can only go with my gut feeling that the number of people ever indicted for knowingly violating campaign finance laws is pretty much limited to people the prosecutors don’t like, like Dinesh D’Souza. In short, while it could happen it would be a bigger sign that The Resistance now controls the SDNY prosecutor’s office than any the significance of the action. As Andy McCarthy, says:
Moreover, campaign finance infractions are often settled by payment of an administrative fine, not turned into felony prosecutions. To be sure, federal prosecutors in New York City have charged them as felonies before – most notably in 2014 against Dinesh D’Souza, whom Trump later pardoned.
In marked contrast, though, when it was discovered that Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million – an amount that dwarfs the $280,000 in Cohen’s case – the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute. Instead, the matter was quietly disposed of by a $375,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission.
Nevertheless, the sentencing memo in Cohen’s case reads like an ode to campaign finance laws. Unlike other types of pleadings, which can be dry and legalistic, sentencing memoranda are meant to persuade the sentencing judge, and they often read like dramatic jury arguments.
This one is no exception, urging that campaign finance laws are vital to election integrity – “painstakingly” designed by Congress “to promote transparency and prevent wealthy individuals” from fueling the “public cynicism” that “the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
In the four corners of this case, these words apply to Cohen. But President Trump cannot feel too comfortable upon reading them.
While Trump clearly will not be indicted before his term ends…and if he’s re-elected the statute of limitations will have expired…that really isn’t the point. These alleged felonies will serve as the basis for impeachment and all it will take is a simply majority of the House to send the case to the Senate for trial.
ADAM SCHIFF: There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time. We have been discussing the issue of pardons that the president may offer to people or dangle in front of people. The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump… The idea that while people are out walking precincts and doing what they should do in campaigns, the rich and powerful seem to live by a different set of rules. So this was the argument for putting Michael Cohen in jail on these campaign violations. That argument I think was equally made with respect to Individual-1, the president of the United States.
TAPPER: I want to read a key line from the Southern District of New York filing from Friday.
It says — quote — “With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election in particular. And, as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1.”
Individual 1, of course, is President Trump.
So, that’s crystal clear. Federal prosecutors are saying that the president ordered Michael Cohen to commit two federal campaign finance felonies. In your view, does that rise to the level of an impeachable offense?
NADLER: Well, I think what these indictments and filings show is that the president was at the center of a massive fraud — several massive frauds against the American people.
And it’s now our job, the job of the Justice Department, the special prosecutor — the special counsel, and the Congress to get to the bottom of this, to find out exactly what was going on, to find out the extent of the president’s involvement, to find out basically what the president knew and when did he know it, so that we can then hold him accountable.
TAPPER: If it is proven that the president directed or coordinated with Cohen to commit these felonies, if it’s proven — and I understand it has not yet been — it’s been alleged by the prosecutors, but has not been proven.
If it’s proven, is — are those impeachable offenses?
NADLER: Well, they would be impeachable offenses.
Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. But, certainly, they would be impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the — that would be an impeachable offense.
But the fact of the matter is that what we see from these indictments and charging statements is a much broader conspiracy against the American people involving these payments, involving an attempt to influence the campaign improperly, with improper payments involving the Russians trying to get influence in the campaign, involving the president lying for an entire year about his ongoing business arrangements, business dealings with the Russians, involving obstruction of justice.
The writing is clearly on the wall.
President Trump will be impeached.
The odds of him being removed from office is very low but the odds of him being impeached by the House of Representatives approaches 100%. Despite the noises you are hearing from the Democrat party and its Congressional caucus, the House Democrats can’t not impeach Trump for several reasons.
First, they have to even the score for Clinton. Clinton’s impeachment is still believed to be a wildly radical and improper step taken by a highly partisan special prosecutor and getting their own back will be just too great a temptation to resist.
Second, they want to put an asterisk by Trump’s election. The whole Russia-collusion narrative is being exposed for the utter bullsh** rational people always knew it to be. In its place they are going to use President Trump’s payments to two mistresses as a way of locking in their narrative that Trump won by cheating. As Nadler says, “they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”
Third, their base demands it and will punish them if they don’t.
Fourth, impeachment will take place as the 2020 primary season gets underway and they undoubtedly feel the best campaign advertisement for the Democrats will be lengthy House Judiciary Committee hearings, covered gavel-to-gavel by CNN and MSNBC as well as extensive play in the New York Times and Washington Post, where Trump can be attacked and where there will be virtually no significant coverage of his defenders. If the Senate drags its feet, that will be a further point of attack. It the Senate votes to acquit, yet another vulnerable flank is revealed.
Given the near inevitability of impeachment, how does this play out? Will the impeachment be seen as the political opportunism and revenge that it is or will it be seen as justified? Will it draw out more anti-Trump votes to reward the act? Or will the Democrat base be smoking a cigarette and wiping down with a damp washcloth in the afterglow and just forget to show up?
I’m on Facebook. Drop by and join the fun there.