campaign finance, impeachment, manafort, michael cohen, mueller, plea bargain, Trump, what color is the sky in the world you live in where a party will vote to impeach its own president on anything but the most serious grounds
So this whole Michael Cohen plea bargain situation is busily unfolding, and while I see a great many calls for impeachment and/or firing squads at dawn, I hate to break it to you that neither one is particularly likely, for a couple reasons.
First and foremost, even if the Democrats manage to manifest their long-hyped “Blue Wave” and retake control of the House, that’s only half the battle, and while it’s possible that they might also gain control of the Senate, they’d have to gain a full-on super majority in order to convict, and that is not going to happen in 2018. Nor do I find the possibility of mass defections likely over a simple campaign finance issue.
So no, the Republicans aren’t going to give up a chance to replace yet another Supreme Court Justice just because the guy representing their party on a global scale is a classless, spray-tanned buffoon.
It’s the second reason, however, that makes things particularly tricky for anyone looking to indict Trump on Cohen’s testimony.
Because there’s a problem that might not have occurred to you.
Assume that Cohen is telling the truth about being directed by Trump to violate campaign finance laws by shelling out some hush money to Trump’s various mistresses (seems likely, to put it mildly). Note that that is not the language used so far; Cohen simply states that “a candidate” directed him to do so.
Cohen was Trump’s lawyer. Therefor, if Trump directs him to do something, he is acting as Trump’s agent. And if he’s acting as Trump’s agent, and the understanding is that Trump will cover the costs associated with this particular potential derailment to his campaign…
Because Trump is allowed to contribute whatever the hell he wants to his own campaign.
If Trump didn’t tell him to do it, Cohen violated campaign finance laws, but did so without the direct involvement of our jowly orange overlord, and as such will take the fall for it alone. If Trump did tell him to do it, and to do so out of his own pocket, then they’re both guilty.
Except that we know Trump paid him back, albeit in a rather circuitous fashion.
So anyone looking to impeach Trump has a significant obstacle in their path in regards to whether or not a crime was even committed. There winds up being a fairly narrow window of circumstances wherein Trump is guilty of a crime, and it’s one that’s going to be very difficult to prove, since anything that devolves into a he-said/he-said situation between the two men is just going to result in character assassination of Michael Cohen which, it’s sad to say, won’t be particularly difficult.
As in many other situations, it may be a bit of a fig leaf of legality, but given the current political climate, a fig leaf is really all you need.
The irony is all of this is that, much like Bill Clinton hanging himself by his own… petard during the Whitewater investigation, if Trump had simply handled all of this directly, rather than attempting to conceal his own involvement through a web of proxies, then while he might be found to be de-facto admitting to adultery (which would likely have shocked exactly no-one, even the most rabidly religious of his base), then he also would have broken no laws at all.
So why would Cohen be leveraged into confessing to something that may or may not have been a crime, depending on circumstances, and why would his confession be worded in sufficiently vague language that while everybody knows that he’s talking about Trump, there remains enough wiggle room to avoid accusing him directly?
At a guess, I’d say Mueller is fishing. He’s got Manafort out of the picture, but nothing on Manafort implicated Trump in anything, apparently, so now he’s stuck with Cohen as his primary cautionary tale and political lever. So Cohen breaking campaign finance laws on behalf of Trump which might be a crime, assuming a prosecutor wants to try and thread that particular needle, gives him another lever on other potential witnesses, since it’s not exactly a secret that Trump’s associates, in general, are sufficiently dirty that they’d likely stand out in a pig wallow.
It makes the President nervous. It makes his legal team nervous. It makes his associates nervous, because who amongst them knows if they’re going to be the next one in the cross-hairs?
Nervous people make mistakes.
So no, I don’t think there’s much chance that Cohen blabbing to anyone who will listen in an attempt to gain clemency for his own crimes is going to bring down the Trump Presidency.
But it is possible that Cohen could wind up being the first in a chain of such convictions and plea bargains that eventually does implicate Trump is something sufficiently nefarious that the Republican Party will be forced to put the long-term survival of the party itself over the short-term advantage of controlling the presidency.
Just don’t expect it to happen before September 4th.