After almost two years of waiting for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to show any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump, the liberal media went overboard last week in trying to read the tea leaves of Mueller’s sentencing recommendations against Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen to figure out what will happen next.
The most serious allegation against President Trump in the three sentencing documents is contained in the papers filed by federal prosecutors against Cohen. It included Cohen’s allegation that Trump (referred to as “Individual-1”) had directed him to arrange for hush money to be paid to two individuals to prevent them from going public with damaging information about Trump shortly before the 2016 presidential election, under the assumption that the payoffs were, in effect, undisclosed campaign contributions, violating campaign finance laws.
Former federal prosecutor and conservative columnist Andrew McCarthy points out that federal prosecutors from the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York made a point of including Cohen’s allegations that the hush money payments were made “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump in a plea deal filed in August. McCarthy believes this clearly indicates that the prosecutors intended, at some point, to pursue criminal charges against Trump related to the payoffs.
McCarthy says that Trump may be legally vulnerable if prosecutors can substantiate Cohen’s claim that he made the payoffs on Trump’s direct order, even though it would have been legal for Trump to have made those payments himself. That is because Cohen admitted violating a federal campaign finance law by funneling the hush money payments through a corporation, and if Trump ordered him to do it, he could also be held responsible for what Cohen did.
Fox News legal commentator, former Judge Andrew Napolitano, agrees with McCarthy’s analysis and expects New York federal prosecutors to charge Trump with paying Cohen to make an illegal campaign contribution. Napolitano said the president should also be “extremely uncomfortable” with the fact that Michael Flynn, who was a senior national security advisor to Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, has continued to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
MUELLER IS NOT READY TO END PROBE
In his statement to a federal judge last week cancelling his plea deal with Paul Manafort, Mueller accused Trump’s former campaign manager of telling “multiple discernible lies” to FBI agents when he negotiated the plea deal in September, and that these were “not instances of mere memory lapses.” Mueller apparently intends to indict and try Manafort for those lies, a process which will take at least several months.
Much of last week’s Mueller court filing against Manafort was redacted, but it appears that Mueller is accusing Manafort of lying about his interactions with a former associate, Russian-Ukrainian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller also accuses Manafort of lying to him about a $125,000 wire transfer and his contacts with Trump administration officials.
The spokesman for Trump’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including Senator Rand Paul and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, reject the claim by prosecutors and Trump’s critics that making hush money payoffs should be treated as “in kind” campaign contributions, thus making the payoffs criminal acts. That legal theory was shot down by the outcome of the 2012 trial of 2008 Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards on charges that he illegally used campaign funds to make hush money payments. It resulted in an acquittal of Edwards on one count and a hung jury on five other counts, after which prosecutors decided to drop the case. In light of that precedent, Giuliani tweeted that the Cohen hush money payments “are not campaign contributions,” and “no responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on [such] a questionable interpretation of the law.”
CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS SHOULD NOT BE CRIMINALIZED
Rand Paul added that the possibility that a sitting president could be subject to impeachment over a campaign finance violation indicated that the current rules are far too complicated and severe.
“There are thousands and thousands of rules. It’s incredibly complicated,” Senator Paul said on NBC. “We have to decide whether or not really criminal penalties are the way we should approach campaign finance. I personally think if someone makes an error in filing paperwork or in not categorizing a campaign contribution correctly, it shouldn’t be jail time, it ought to be a fine. It’s just like a lot of other things we’ve done in Washington. We’ve over-criminalized campaign finance.”
Leading conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said that media claims that Trump’s presidency is already doomed are intended to gradually wear down the near record high level of his public support – which makes him impervious to the threat of impeachment – to a level of “30% or less, so that he would lose all of his Republican support and either be impeached or forced to resign.”
Limbaugh said that “the icing on the cake for these people would be impeaching Trump and convicting him or waiting till he leaves office and then indicting him and sending him to jail then.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insists that the sentencing memos and Cohen’s admission “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.” Meanwhile, Trump tweeted that the sentencing documents filed by prosecutors “totally clear the President.”
Trump later told reporters, “On the Mueller situation, we’re very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia.”
MEDIA CLAIMS THAT TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY IS DOOMED
But the anti-Trump mainstream media was quick to reject the Trump team’s benign interpretation of the legal implications of sentencing documents. Many media reporters and commentators were quick to declare that the sentencing documents provided sufficient evidence to justify Trump’s impeachment on grounds that his involvement with the payoffs was a criminal violation of campaign finance laws.
This was the conclusion of MSNBC commentators Lawrence O’Donnell, Eddie Glaude and Ali Velshi. CNN solicited the same opinion from Carl Bernstein and John Dean, veterans of the Watergate scandal which forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace.
John Dean, who served as Nixon’s White House counsel and later testified against his president and pleaded guilty to a felony for his role in the Watergate coverup, said the House now has “little choice” but to impeach Trump.
Washington Post reporter Bernstein, who, with Bob Woodward, uncovered key aspects of the Nixon White House involvement in the scandal, said that what’s already known about Trump’s activities look like the kind of offenses that would call for impeachment hearings into the conduct of the president.
“There’s something much more important than just impeachment going on, and that is the fact that Donald Trump for the first time in his life is cornered,” Bernstein said. “As a businessman, he always could bully his way out of a corner. He always could buy his way out, cheat his way out. [But now] he is boxed in by Mueller, and the people around him know that he is.
“It’s clear that Mueller is now connecting the dots between a massive obstruction intended to hide the truth about the Trump campaign, Trump, his business organization, and his family from the investigators.”
MUELLER WITNESS FIGHTS BACK
After months of negotiations, Trump and his legal team submitted written responses last month to some of Mueller’s questions about the allegations of Russian collusion. Trump’s lawyers had been worried about the plea deals and sentencing recommendations that Mueller’s team had been preparing.
Trump’s lawyers were particularly concerned about the document Mueller’s lawyers wanted conservative conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi to sign. It said Corsi knew that longtime Republican activist Roger Stone was “in regular contact” with Trump, even though Stone was no longer a member of the Trump campaign, and that Stone had asked Corsi to find out from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange what documents about Mrs. Clinton would be released next.
Trump’s lawyers feared it would portray Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator. Trump’s top lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Ed O’Callahan, one of Mueller’s senior prosecutors. After their meeting, Trump’s lawyers submitted the written responses they prepared to Mueller’s questions, but Corsi refused to sign the plea deal that had been prepared for him.
Last week, Corsi filed a formal complaint with the Justice Department and the Washington DC Bar Association about the tactics used by Mueller’s team, which he accused of “gross prosecutorial misconduct and criminal acts.” On Monday, Corsi’s lawyer, Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, filed a lawsuit against Mueller, his team, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the National Security Agency for $350 million in damages for trying to coerce Corsi into committing perjury by giving false testimony against President Trump.
Corsi’s lawsuit claimed that Mueller “and his partisan, Democrat, pro-Clinton, and anti-Trump ethically and legally conflicted prosecutorial staff illegally and unconstitutionally wiretapped and surveilled him.” Then they leaked grand jury information in order “to coerce and/or blackmail [Corsi into] testifying against the president.”
Stone still appears to be a focus of Mueller’s investigation, even though no charges have yet been filed by prosecutors against Stone or Corsi.
DERSHOWITZ SAYS TRUMP WAS A VICTIM, NOT A CRIMINAL
Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has said that Trump was always in greater legal jeopardy from other criminal charges, rather than allegations that he was obstructing justice by firing James Comey as FBI director or criminally colluding with the Russians, since he could always say that he had a right to express any opinion he wanted while he was a candidate for president, and that after he was elected, by firing Comey, he was merely carrying out his constitutional duties as head of the executive branch of government.
But Dershowitz said on Fox News that the legal obligation to report the hush money payoffs as campaign contributions, if it exists at all, did not fall on Trump himself, but rather on the officials running his campaign. By law, that report would only have to be made after the election, which undermines the claim by the New York Times that by authorizing the hush money payments to keep information from the voters, Trump was “defrauding” the voters. Dershowitz also says that Trump was not the criminal in this case, but rather the victim of extortion by those who demanded and accepted the payoffs.
He further believes that New York federal prosecutors and those who demanded the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel succumbed to intense pressure from Trump’s political opponents and expanded the normal definitions of criminal law to create an excuse to force Trump from office. Dershowitz argues that the best way to test whether a candidate is being fairly accused is to imagine the reaction if the exact same accusation were to be made against their opponent. In other words, what would the media and political reaction have been if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election and was then subjected to the same type of persistent investigation that Trump has been facing?
Dershowitz claims that unforgiving demands by the liberal political and media establishment for political conformity in condemning Trump is a growing threat to American democracy, civil liberties and freedom of thought.
NEW YORK PROSECUTORS TARGETING THE PRESIDENT
When Cohen’s home and business offices were raided earlier this year by the team of federal prosecutors, the most serious evidence of wrongdoing they found had to do with offenses related to Cohen’s financial dealings in the New York City taxi industry, which had nothing to do with the things he did for Trump.
Andrew McCarthy adds that because New York prosecutors included a reference to Trump’s role in the hush money payments made by Cohen in their list of charges, he believes that the prosecutors eventually plan to move against the president as well, and is why they were included at all, since the other, unrelated criminal charges against Cohen are much more serious.
In the Cohen sentencing memo, the Mueller team scolded him for trying to deceive “the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.” The prosecutors wrote that, “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.”
NADLER ANTICIPATES PUTTING TRUMP ON TRIAL
Democrat Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary committee which would inaugurate any impeachment move against President Trump, said, “Until now, you had two different charges, allegations, whatever you want to call them. One was collusion with the Russians. One was obstruction of justice and all that entails. And now you have a third — that the president was at the center of a massive fraud against the American people.”
Nadler said he would instruct his committee to investigate those accusations after he becomes chairman in January. “Well, they would be impeachable offenses, whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” Nadler said on CNN Sunday. “But certainly, they’d be impeachable offenses, because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office, that would be an impeachable offense.”
Nadler said that Trump “was at the center of a massive fraud, several massive frauds against the American people. It is now our job, the job of the Justice Department, special counsel and the Congress, to get to the bottom of this, to find out exactly what was going on, to find out the extent of the president’s involvement, to find out exactly what did the president know and when did he know it, so we can hold him accountable…
“I disagree with the Office of Special Counsel and the Department of Justice. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the president from being indicted. This country originated in a rebellion against the English king, [and] we did not seek to create another king. Nobody, not the president, not anybody else, can be above the law.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper did not remind Nadler that in 1998, he opposed the Republican attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton after he was caught lying to a federal judge about his embarrassing conduct while he was in the White House.
Nadler also ignored the fact that there is still no evidence to back the first two allegations against Trump, that he colluded with the Russians during the campaign and then obstructed justice by trying to block the investigation into the first charge by firing FBI Director James Comey. In fact, both of those allegations have been largely debunked since they were first made. It is now known that the Russian collusion charge was originated by former British spy Christopher Steele based upon unverified Russian sources. Steele was paid secretly by the Clinton campaign to write the dossier as a political opposition piece for use against Trump.
COMEY DISGRACES HIMSELF
Comey’s reputation and credibility has not improved since Trump fired him in May 2017. During a weekend appearance at New York’s 92nd Street Y, Comey raised further doubts about his claim that he ran the FBI with strict political neutrality when he issued an emotional plea that Trump must be removed from power and his 2020 Democrat opponent for the White House, “has to win.”
Many Democrats still blame Comey for undermining Hillary Clinton’s momentum during the final days of the 2016 campaign.
Last week, in his testimony before Congress, Comey feigned a sudden attack of selective amnesia when Republicans asked him to answer 245 questions, from the FBI’s soft interrogation of Hillary Clinton about her private email server, to why Comey signed off on the application for a FISA court warrant to spy on Trump advisor Carter Page, based primarily upon the bogus allegations in the Christopher Steele dossier, which Comey admitted had not been verified. Republican Congressman Jim Jordan was particularly disturbed by Comey’s statement that the FBI had no obligation to inform the FISA court about the problems with the Steele dossier.
Jordan will be the ranking Republican member of the House Oversight committee when the newly elected Congress is seated next month. He claims that there is still no reason for conservative Republicans to walk away from Trump because of the politically motivated accusations against him. “I always come back to the facts. To date, [there has not been] one bit of evidence of any type of coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election,” Jordan said in an interview. As long as his fellow conservatives share Jordan’s view, there is no way that Democrats will attain the two-thirds Senate majority vote they would need in the Republican-controlled Senate to remove Trump from office.
STILL NO EVIDENCE OF TRUMP-RUSSIA COLLUSION
The various narratives about how the FBI Russian collusion investigation originated that have been published in the liberal media have been unconvincing and contradictory. The original targets of the investigation, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, were never more than peripheral figures in the Trump campaign. They were used by Russian agents as what Lenin used to refer to as “useful idiots,” in unsuccessful efforts to penetrate higher levels of the Trump campaign. Even the notorious Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer interested in sanctions relief broke up after just 20 minutes with no agreement to continue the contacts.
It does appear that the Russians did make several clumsy attempts to entice several Trump campaign officials with offers of political dirt that could be used against Mrs. Clinton, but were unsuccessful. The separate Russian social media campaign to subvert the American electoral campaign was carried out on too small a scale to have much of an impact on the outcome. Russian hacking had the greatest impact on the outcome of the election. It was responsible for revealing the efforts by Democrat National Committee (DNC) officials to skew the primary process in favor of Mrs. Clinton and embarrassing facts about Mrs. Clinton contained in emails of her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Nadler’s suggestion that Trump’s alleged role in the Cohen payoffs significantly influenced the outcome of the election greatly distorts the situation during the latter part of the 2016 campaign. By then, Trump had been under constant and merciless attack from the Democrats and their allies in the liberal media criticizing his personal conduct. It is hard to believe that two more critics coming forward at that time with years-old allegations would have made much difference in voters’ opinions of Trump. On the contrary; socially conservative and religious voters, at that point, had already heard much worse about Trump from his critics, and decided to support him anyway.
TRUMP: VICTIM OF DOUBLE STANDARDS
As a betrayal of voter confidence and “a fraud against the American people,” paying off two people trying to blackmail a candidate seems tame compared to the conspiracy by the leadership of the DNC to rig the outcome of the 2016 primary process to help Hillary Clinton win the party’s nomination at the expense of Bernie Sanders. One might ask Nadler if he also intends to have his committee investigate and discipline Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to step down as DNC chair after her role in that conspiracy was revealed.
One is also tempted to ask Nadler why he did not object when the Justice Department let Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign get off the hook for $2 million in finance violations by paying a $375,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission, while threatening to remove Trump from the White House over $280,000 in hush money payments that did not even come from his campaign’s coffers. Barack Obama’ campaign finance violations were handled by campaign lawyers as a civil matter, which is the usual procedure, but Trump’s opponents are insisting that his alleged technical violation of campaign finance laws be treated as a heinous crime.
Trump’s lawyers will also argue that the hush money payments were legal because they probably would have been made even if Trump had not been running for president, in order to avoid embarrassing Trump’s family. Therefore, they should not be considered campaign donations. That is the same legal argument which John Edwards used to get the federal campaign finance charges against him dropped.
COHEN’S CHANGING STORIES
Michael Cohen has been trying to use the promise of revealing some of his inside information about Trump to convince prosecutors to recommend a lighter sentence for his other illegal activities. In Cohen’s latest court plea, he added a new admission that he lied in testimony before Congress about the duration of his negotiations on Trump’s behalf over the proposed Moscow Trump Tower project. Trump had long claimed that he rejected the Moscow tower proposal in January 2016, but Cohen now claims that the negotiations continued through the 2016 GOP primary season and that Trump didn’t pulled the plug on it until after he had clinched the GOP nomination in June.
Cohen said that in September 2015, he reached out to the Russian government about an earlier Russian real estate proposal. Two months later, Cohen says he “spoke [by phone] with a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the [Trump] campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’” Cohen’s “trusted” Russian contact assured him that a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin would eliminate all remaining obstacles standing in the way of the project, because there was “no bigger guarantee of success in Russia than Putin’s consent.”
There were also reports that Cohen had suggested offering Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in the finished Moscow project, potentially adding involvement in the crime of bribery to Trump’s potential legal exposure over this deal.
The discussions Cohen described with his Russian contact could also indicate that Cohen had tapped into a channel of communications with someone high up in the Russian government. However, the sentencing document cites Cohen’s claim that he broke off those negotiations in favor of those with a different contact who claimed to have his own connections with the Russian government. He was Felix Slater, a longtime Trump business associate. Slater also proposed arranging a meeting between Trump and Putin, which never took place. Cohen now claims, contrary to his earlier congressional testimony, that his contacts with Slater on Trump’s behalf continued until June 2016, when Trump finally rejected the Moscow Trump Tower project because he was about to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Cohen’s statement makes it clear that he and Trump were interested in exploring Russian commercial and real estate proposals, but it does not indicate any willingness to collude with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mueller provides a hint that his probe is not over yet by praising Cohen in his sentencing memo for providing the special counsel’s office “with useful information concerning certain Russia-related matters core to its investigation.” This suggests that Mueller has more evidence than he has revealed to prove that there was criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
COHEN LYING TO BOTH SIDES
On the other hand, the sentencing memo makes it clear that Cohen has been lying to both sides, Mueller and the Trump camp, in a “deliberate effort” to keep all his options open while trying to win enough favor from prosecutors to avoid a long prison sentence. While maintaining his contacts with unnamed people inside the Trump White House, Mueller’s office wrote that Cohen provided them with “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period,” which “has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained in the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation.”
But other parts of Mueller’s sentencing memo challenge Cohen’s credibility and strongly suggest that his self-serving statements intended to reduce his jail sentence should not be believed. The memo rejects Cohen’s request for the “extraordinary leniency” of no prison sentence based on “his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes” and the credit he claims for providing “certain information to law enforcement.” It says that Cohen “overstated” the extent of his cooperation, calling it “incomplete,” saying that he “repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.”
Cohen “specifically declined to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” prosecutors wrote. He also “declined to meet with [them] about other areas of investigative interest. In order to successfully cooperate, witnesses must undergo full debriefings that encompass their entire criminal history, as well as any and all information they possess about crimes committed by both themselves and others.”
By not pursuing this process, prosecutors wrote, Cohen’s efforts fell short of cooperation, and as a result, he was not offered a deal.
Prosecutors also said that Cohen secured a substantial amount of consulting business for himself which he did not deserve, by claiming he had “unique insights and access” to Trump.
The Justice Department concluded that Cohen is guilty of “extensive, deliberate, and serious criminal conduct,” and thinks “he is above the laws reflected in his crimes of conviction.” He was “motivated by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.” This “underscores the need for a substantial period of incarceration as a means to promote respect for the law and to deter future abuses by other individuals seeking improperly to influence the electoral process, evade taxes, or lie to financial institutions.”
New York prosecutors asked the court to give Cohen a “substantial term of imprisonment” amounting to about four to five years, while the Probation Department recommended a sentence of 42 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The problems with Michael Cohen’s credibility did not deter Trump’s enemies from embracing Cohen’s new claim that his hush money payments were carried out at the direction and with the full knowledge of the president.
SCHIFF PREDICTS TRUMP WILL NEED A PARDON
Congressman Adam Schiff, who is in line to be the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged on CBS News that Justice Department policy does not permit a sitting president to be indicted for a crime. Nevertheless, he said, “My takeaway is there’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”
When commenting on expectations that Trump might pardon some of his former associates who refused to testify against him in the Mueller probe, Schiff added, “The bigger pardon question may come down the road, as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.
“I think the prosecutors in New York make a powerful case against that idea… against Michael Cohen… that argument was equally made with respect to the president of the United States.”
But Trump’s political enemies have underestimated Trump’s resilience and popularity before. Democrat party leaders, including the incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are well aware of the danger that a failed effort to remove Trump from office through impeachment without sufficient cause could easily create a voter backlash and actually improve his chances to win re-election to a second term in 2020.