Appearing before a District Court in Manhattan, Cohen told the judge that he arranged payments to silence two women who Trump had extra-marital affairs with
Last week, Donald Trump reacted angrily to calls for his impeachment after his former lawyer and long-time confidant implicated him in violations of campaign finance laws. He warned that, if he ever got impeached, the United States’ market would collapse and there would be poverty in the country. But his threat was immediately dismissed by economists who argued that Vice President Mike Pence would perform better in the event that he takes over power.
But, more importantly, Trump’s outburst was a clear admission that he realised he could be thrown out of the White House through impeachment.
During the presidential debate in 2016, candidate Trump proudly described himself as a “smart guy.” But he was not smart enough to prevent Michael Cohen, 51, from spilling the beans on some of the shady deals they made to beat the law and secure victory at the polls in 2016.
Analysts have said Cohen’s revelation could affect the fortunes of the Republican Party in the November mid-term elections. The thinking is that, if the Democrats secure a majority in Congress, they could decide to commence the impeachment process of the President. Time will determine if this would happen.
Appearing before a District Court in Manhattan, New York, on Wednesday, Cohen told the judge that he arranged payments to silence two women who Trump had extra-marital affairs with. He named the two women as Stephanie Clifford, a porn star popularly known as Stormy Daniels, and a former nursery school teacher and Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal.
Cohen stunned the court audience when he claimed that he acted on the instructions of Trump. He said, “I participated in this conduct with the purpose of influencing the election for the President.” He also said that the payments were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
Cohen’s plea deal immediately ramped up calls for the impeachment of the President for committing a federal crime. The US Constitution provides immunity for a sitting President from being prosecuted but he could be impeached for committing federal crimes. It is instructive that Cohen’s admission came after months of denials by him and Trump that payments were made to silence women the President was alleged to have had affairs with prior to his candidacy for the presidency.
It was not only Cohen’s revelation that dazed the Trump last week. Just as Cohen was facing the court in Manhattan, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, 69, was facing a jury in Virginia, where he was found guilty of tax and bank fraud. The cases of Cohen and Manafort show that Trump had assembled a team of fraudulent aides to help him manoeuvre his way to the White House.
Details of Cohen’s crime
The former Trump lawyer “pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, for concealing more than $4 million in personal income from 2012 to 2016 and to one count of bank fraud, for failing to disclose $14 million in debts in an application for a $500,000 home equity line of credit, the source of his payment to Ms Clifford.”
“He also pleaded guilty to making an excessive campaign contribution and causing an unlawful corporate contribution during the 2016 election cycle,” said a report. His sentence will be handed down on December 12. He faces a maximum of 65 years imprisonment though it is being speculated that he could get presidential reprieve.
Manafort was “found guilty of eight out of 18 counts: five of making false income tax returns, two of bank fraud and one of failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts.” Reports said members of the jury failed to reach a consensus on the remaining 10 counts, adding that the case “went to the jury on Thursday after 12 days of gripping testimony about hidden bank accounts, betrayal and lavish spending on luxury homes, cars, antique rugs and clothes.” Manafort did not make a plea deal. It is also being speculated he may get presidential reprieve.
The Clifford and McDougal scandals
Both women had over time insisted they had affairs with Trump. The revelations had moral implications for Trump who was then running for the presidency. Therefore, there was a biting need to protect the image of the candidate who had portrayed himself as a responsible husband and father who could be trusted with the White House.
While $130,000 was paid to Clifford, McDougal got $150,000. Ordinarily, the law may have closed its eyes to payments made to silence the women from making public stories of the sexual romp they had with a married man. Trump’s was not only a high-profile case but the payment procedure adopted raised the ire of the law. This, the prosecutors explained in clear terms to avoid the accusation of witch-hunting as Trump had always alleged whenever his actions are queried. So, where lies the crime? The prosecutors said the executives of Trump’s business conglomerate, the Trump Organisation, “were involved in reimbursing Cohen for that payment, accepting his phony invoices that listed it as a legal expense.” The payment referred to here was that made to Clifford. Prosecutors also noted that a US tabloid, The National Enquirer, owned by American Media Inc. “bought the rights to the story” about Karen McDougal, “then killed it.”
According to prosecutors, in the eyes of the law, the $130,000 paid to Clifford “was effectively donation to Trump’s campaign, because, by securing her silence, it improved his electoral fortunes, and thus violated 2016 campaign finance law prohibitions against donations of more than $2,700 in a general election.” In the case of payments made to McDougal, prosecutors held that Cohen caused “an illegal corporate donation to Trump through his involvement in a $150,000 payment that A.M.I. made to her in 2016 “to buy the rights to her story, effectively securing her silence for the remainder of the campaign.”
Prosecutors further explained that “corporations are prohibited from coordinating political spending with candidates or their representatives,” noting that “Cohen signed papers a month later to purchase the rights” to McDougal’s agreement from A.M.I. “but the publisher backed out of the deal at the last minute.”
According to American media, prosecutors proved that A.M.I. “became a de facto campaign proxy for Cohen in his efforts on behalf of Trump.” Court papers were cited showing that the publisher agreed in August 2015, months before the first primaries, to look out for damaging stories about Trump and his alleged affairs with women during talks with Cohen and “one or more” members of Trump’s campaign. “The tabloid company agreed to identify those stories so they could be purchased and their publications avoided.”
Prosecutors further revealed “that the deal led to the arrangement with McDougal, which was struck in August 2016,” pointing out that “it only came together after Cohen promised A.M.I. it would be reimbursed for the McDougal payment.”
Also, prosecutors found that A.M.I. was involved in the arrangement for payment to Clifford. Quoting court papers, reports said “the tabloid connected Cohen with the lawyer who had negotiated the McDougal contract, Keith Davidson,” adding that Davidson also had Clifford as a client and later hashed out the agreement for Clifford’s silence.
“Prosecutors said in court papers that when Cohen initially failed to finalise the deal, an editor at A.M.I, a likely reference to Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer alerted Cohen that there was a risk that Clifford would sell her story to another media company, one that would publish it.”
Angry Trump knocks Cohen
Trump reacted to Cohen’s guilty plea with a sense of confusion. At one time, he tweeted: “Michael Cohen’s plead (sic) guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime.” In the tweet, he said “President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!” However, in another tweet, the controversial president described Manafort as “such a brave man.”
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his family,” adding “unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’” Trump said. “A large number of counts, 10, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt.” He then hit Cohen: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
Interestingly, in an interview with Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt two days after Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump denied that the payments to Clifford and McDougal were “taken out of campaign finance.” His words: “They weren’t taken out of campaign finance, that’s the big thing, that’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come from the campaign. They came from me.”
Trump, attorney-general in war of words
Apparently done with Cohen, Trump lambasted his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions. What has Sessions done wrong this time? The President believes that Session’s withdrawal from the on-going probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election made Cohen to make a plea deal. A disappointed Trump said: “You know that’s the only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter.”
“I put in an attorney-general that never took control of the Justice Department,” Trump said. “Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department, and it’s a sort of an incredible thing. Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn’t have done. Or he should have told me,” Trump continued. “Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself, and then you wouldn’t have put him in. He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’” The president reportedly said he wants to stay involved with the Russia probe “but may act” because of what he sees as bias at the Justice Department against him. “Everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department. I always put ‘Justice’ now with quotes. It is very, very sad day.”
Trump had, earlier in the month, asked Sessions to “shut down the Russia probe.” “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump tweeted at the time.
Though the attorney-general rarely responds publicly to the Presidents rants, he did last week. He issued what has been described by pundits as a “striking statement” on Thursday. He said: “I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in. Which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda, one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”
“While I am attorney-general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions continued. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States. I am proud to serve with them and proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law.”