This week has been less than optimal for the Trump administration, to put it mildly. Early this week, Trump received a double whammy: first Paul Manafort was found guilty on 10 of 18 counts including tax fraud and bank fraud, then Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, alleging that they were at the behest of Trump.
Before assessing the implications of the Manafort/Cohen fiascos for Trump’s presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: Trump and his top staffers are guilty of being incredibly poor judges of character. How is it possible that the broke and desperate for cash Manafort, who had a lengthy history of shady dealings with foreign governments, was named campaign manager? Even though he served for less than three months in the role, and was fired when those questionable connections came to light, it is astounding that he was even considered for the position.
In the case of Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and making false statements to a financial institution, in addition to the campaign finance violations, reportedly was pressured by federal prosecutors to plead guilty in order to protect his wife, who was also facing criminal charges because they filed joint tax returns. Again, when you are the leader of the free world, and have access to the best information on the planet, it seems ludicrously negligent for Trump to allow this tax and bank cheat into his inner circle.
Despite the dual disaster, neither of these criminal cases relate to the original intent of the Mueller investigation: collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
In that sense, they bear an eerie resemblance to another high-profile investigation of the executive branch a generation ago. The Whitewater proceedings were intended to shine light upon questionable financial dealings on the part of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Although they were never implicated directly, several associates and business partners, including Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, and Clinton business partners Jim and Susan McDougal, faced criminal charges.
Clinton, of course, was impeached by the House of Representatives for a perjury charge, after lying to Kenneth Starr about a sexual relationship with a White House intern.
Sounds rather familiar, does it not? Trump’s feet are now held to the fire over hush money paid to a porn star…something that has nothing to do with collusion with the Russian government.
And Bill Clinton was impeached (but not convicted), for lying about sexual acts in the Oval Office with a White House intern, something that had nothing to do with financial improprieties in Arkansas land dealings.
Trump, in typical fashion, soon took to social media to express his feelings on the Michael Cohen matter.
If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
When considering the extraordinary nature of the Cohen situation, the first thing that comes to mind is attorney-client privilege. Long a bedrock principal in the legal practice, attorney-client privilege would seem to incapacitate Cohen from incriminating his client in such a matter.
A key issue that will play out in the coming weeks is, was this a civil or a criminal offence? Campaign finance violations are typically civil offences, unless they are done “knowingly and willfully”…furthermore, it appears to remain a legal stretch that these payments (if they in fact happened) were done in conjunction with the campaign.
Trump is free to use his own personal funds (of which he has plenty) to enter into any type of non-disclosure agreement with anyone he chooses. We will leave for another day the morality of signing a non-disclosure agreement with a porn star with whom you were allegedly cheating on your wife.
Suffice it to say, that moral probity and Christian ethics have never been the foundation of the Trump campaign.
However, to the 95% (and that’s being generous) of the Trump-hating Washington establishment, academia, and mainstream media, the alleged Cohen campaign finance violations are bigger than Pearl Harbor, Watergate, and the Moon Landing put together. This is the final nail in the coffin that will end Trump’s presidency, in their mind.
Don’t be so sure.
If the Democrats retake the House in November (currently looking like a 60% to 70% probability), they should think long and hard before they bring up impeachment. They should consider the case of Bill Clinton.
Clinton was impeached in the House, but fell well short of being convicted by the Senate. The American public found the whole affair distasteful precisely because it stemmed from a personal sexual matter. Polls showed that the American public largely deemed the matter a highly partisan investigation, that was not justified by the underlying offense.
The Democrats’ impeachment effort may backfire. If they believe that paying hush money to a porn star amounts to “high crimes and misdemeanors” under the Constitution, then they should schedule a vote in the House. The Senate is still unlikely to convict, and it looks likely that the Republicans will maintain control of that body.
So…the bottom line. Even if Trump is impeached in the House, he is unlikely to be convicted in the Senate…unless there is evidence that bolsters the original investigation: collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to steal the election.
Democrats would be well-advised to consider the Clinton impeachment debacle, before plunging headfirst into a Trump impeachment saga.