The Plea Deal
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, plead guilty to campaign finance violations including two felonies: making an excessive campaign contribution and causing an unlawful corporate contribution. During his August 22, 2018 plea in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Cohen admitted that he was acting to benefit Trump’s presidential bid by arranging a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels (the outspoken pornstar who Trump had an affair with, to read more about Stormy click here and another $150,000 payment to a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal. Stormy Daniels claimed that she only had one sexual encounter with Trump but McDougal said her affair lasted over a 10-month period. Trump was married during both dalliances. Upon making the payments, Cohen was reimbursed by the Trump Organization as part of a “retainer agreement.”
What Does the Plea Mean for Trump?
After the plea, Cohen’s lawyer, and PROOF friend, Lanny Davis, tweeted, “Michael Cohen took this step today so that his family can move on to the next chapter. This is Michael fulfilling his promise made on July 2nd to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump.” Naturally there’s significant disagreement as to what this all means for Trump (party lines, anyone?). The truth is Trump has been sued more times than imaginable (even while in office) and he does seem to be protected by a bit of Teflon (aka staunch Trump followers) as he seems to avoid any real or lasting punishment for missteps– both intentional and unintentional– on major issues time and time again. Lanny Davis is attempting to make things more clear for a lot of us when after Cohen’s plea he continued to tweet, “Today [Michael Cohen] stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Well, if only it really were that cut and dry. It’s not. First, even if Cohen is being truthful about making the hush-money payments at the behest of Trump, the illegality must be proven as to Trump’s actions and directives. This is not so easy a task. Prosecutors will need to prove that Trump intended to carry out illegal activity and that he knew or had reason to know that what Cohen was doing was illegal.
This certainly would be easier if Cohen has e-mails or communications (more video or audio recordings) with the President that prove then-candidate Trump knew the payouts were being made to benefit or influence his presidential race. It will be an uphill battle to prove this though, and Cohen made no allusions (or direct statements which certainly would have been persuasive) to a conversation with the President when in court.
Trump Denies it’s a Crime but Lashes Out at Obama
Trump (as he oft does) started a Twitter tirade against Cohen starting with, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” (Why Trump’s school age and school yard behavior continues to surprise us we don’t know!) In another tweet Trump compared Obama’s campaign violations with those alleged against him, stating, “Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!” This is a complete misstatement by Trump as Cohen’s admitted campaign finance law violations are in fact crimes–intentional willful violations of campaign laws whereas election law experts describe Obama’s infractions as minor violations that are treated as regulatory or civil matters.
Here’s the deal with impeachment. In order to impeach, a majority vote (51%) for impeachment is needed in the House of Representatives. This is a very real possibility and, If Democrats continue to win seats in the midterm elections, even more so. But because there is a vote for impeachment doesn’t mean a president will be removed (ie. Bill Clinton). Note, impeachment is really just the bringing of charges. Removal is the conviction of those charges. For removal, there must be a ⅔ vote of the Senate–that means 67 Senators must vote for Trump’s removal in order for him to be removed from office. Even if there are those Democrat midterms wins, this a very big number; the likelihood of removal is pretty low. In fact, to date, no president has been involuntarily removed from office.
However, there is no doubt that the plot is thickening as it relates to Trump and impeachment.