In guilty plea, Cohen implicates Trump
Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, this week directly implicated the president in an illegal scheme to pay hush money to an adult film star and a former Playboy model who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty this week to eight charges, including violating campaign finance law by arranging payments of $130,000 to adult actress Stephanie Clifford, who performs as Stormy Daniels, and $150,000 to model Karen McDougal. The allegation raises the possibility that Trump himself could be charged with campaign finance violations, which could become part of an impeachment battle. The White House reportedly views Cohen as more threatening to Trump than the probe into Russian election interference.
Cohen once said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump, but he began to distance himself from the president after his home and office were raided in April, and Trump balked at paying his legal bills. Trump replied mockingly to the guilty plea, saying, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Meanwhile, Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said his client has “direct knowledge” of whether Trump knew about Russian hacking of Democratic Party computers in the 2016 election and “even cheered it on.” The case against Cohen was managed by federal prosecutors in New York, not special counsel Robert Mueller, but Davis said Cohen was eager to share what he knows with Mueller.
What the columnists said
The election was decided by a narrow margin in several states, and “Cohen robbed voters of relevant information they were owed,” said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. Considering Trump’s reputation as a “serially philandering celebrity,” it’s debatable whether voters would have cared about charges that he had slept with Daniels. But we didn’t get to find out, because Cohen “specifically admitted” that he made the hush payments “to prevent voters from hearing information that would damage Trump’s chances of becoming president.” That’s why concealing campaign expenditures is a felony.
Cries for impeachment over these payments are ridiculous, said Elizabeth Vaughn in RedState.com. It may have been expedient for Cohen to plead guilty, but even if these payments were illegal, “penalties for campaign violations are generally minimal.” Barack Obama would know; as Trump already pointed out, Obama violated campaign finance laws in 2008 and was fined $375,000.
If Cohen makes a cooperation deal with Mueller, Trump is in real trouble, said Ken White in The New York Times. He says Trump knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting of his campaign aides, and may have more “dynamite” on Russian collusion. Already, “the president’s personal lawyer’’ has said in court that the president directed him to commit a crime. If the Democrats take control of the House, Cohen could “find himself a star witness” at impeachment hearings for his former boss.