Cohen threatened Wednesday to do more harm to Trump. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May 2017 is willing to provide information to special counsel Robert Mueller that would “suggest” Trump had knowledge of Russian efforts to hack into Democratic computer systems to interfere with the election.
Yet another development demonstrated just how many ways Cohen could hurt the president. The tax authority in New York state issued a subpoena to Cohen for information related to its separate investigation of the Trump Foundation, the president’s charity.
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on the case was this tweet: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” He then claimed, bizarrely, that Cohen had pleaded guilty to mere “violations” that “are not a crime.”
Why did Cohen and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort get in trouble for offences that are not collusion with Russia? Isn’t that supposed to be what Mueller is investigating?
Mueller has broad latitude to investigate and charge people for crimes not related to collusion. When Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May 2017, he was tasked with investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” — but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
Could Trump go to jail?
It’s very unlikely as long as he is in office. The Department of Justice has declared since 1973 that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute a sitting president.
That finding has not been tested in court. But Mueller, a former FBI director, is widely seen as unlikely to take the explosive step of disregarding it.
Trump could more conceivably be named as an “unindicted co-conspirator,” someone who participated in a criminal conspiracy but is not charged; president Richard Nixon was identified in such a way in the Watergate scandal. It is also possible that Mueller will simply lay out any alleged crimes by Trump in a public report to Congress.
Could Trump get impeached over this?
Yes — or, more likely, this and other matters together. A president can get impeached for anything members of Congress believe is an impeachable offence.
The Constitution says impeachment can be used in response to treason, bribery, and “other high crimes and misdemeanours.” It does not define what qualifies as a high crime or misdemeanour. Many experts believe a high crime does not even have to be a criminal offence. University of North Carolina constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt told the Star last year: “Impeachment is not limited to what we call indictable crimes. It focuses on abuse of power, breach of trust.”
Jack Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, argued in the conservative Weekly Standard that “the Cohen accusation alone, combined with the president’s lies and obstructions related to Russia, suffice to justify impeachment proceedings.”
What are the chances of impeachment?
It’s impossible to say. What we do know for sure: it is highly unlikely to happen unless Democrats win back control of the House in the November midterm elections. Even then, it is not clear that they would commence impeachment proceedings any time soon.
And even if Trump were impeached in the House, it would be hard to force him out of office. After impeachment, a president can only be removed with a vote of two-thirds of the 100-member Senate. Democrats face an uphill battle just to win a 51-seat majority.
What did Cohen implicate Trump in?
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight offences. Two of them were about the campaign and about Trump.
Cohen said he made an illegal corporate contribution to the Trump campaign by arranging with the company that owns the National Enquirer tabloid to pay $150,000 to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump, in order to keep her from revealing damaging information. He said he also made an excessive campaign contribution by paying $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in order to prevent her from telling her story about having sex with Trump.
Crucially, Cohen said he committed both of the illegal acts “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office.”
Who else is at risk in this case?
The hush-money arrangement involves other former executives at the Trump Organization, Trump’s company. Prosecutors say executives approved $420,000 in related payments to Cohen, the executive vice-president, and that one executive told an employee to falsely describe the expenditures as a legal “retainer.”
The New York Times has reported that chief executive officer Allen Weisselberg, a close Trump associate, had knowledge of the retainer arrangement. Any legal problems for him would give Trump more problems.
What is Trump claiming?
Trump argued on Twitter that Cohen had pleaded guilty to non-crimes: “Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime.”
In a Fox News interview, he argued incorrectly that there was no crime committed because the payments “came from me” rather than from out of campaign funds. There are numerous campaign finance crimes that do not involve expenditures from campaign funds.
And Trump twice raised the fact that Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign paid a $375,000 fine, and did not face charges, because of its own campaign finance violations. But those violations did not involve Obama himself, and they were over issues that were considered errors, not intentional efforts to break the law.
Mueller is known to be probing a wide variety of issues, including the possibility that Trump has committed obstruction of justice. Cohen could help him.
Manafort faces a second trial in September. He could attempt to seek a reduction in his sentence, and avoid the trial, by deciding to give Mueller information. It is also possible that Trump could issue a presidential pardon to Manafort, sparing him from prison but likely causing a political uproar.
And, of course, it is possible that Trump could choose the nuclear option: firing Mueller and trying to shut down the investigation.