Eisen explains, “Among other things, this news raises the question whether the president was involved in facilitating what may have been an illegal campaign contribution. Another even more troubling question is raised as well: What other tapes or additional evidence from Cohen’s files of possible Trump wrongdoing is now in prosecutors’ hands? A presidency may hang in the balance of the answer to that query.”
Put differently, as Common Cause’s Paul S. Ryan told me via email, “If the earlier reporting that AMI consulted with Cohen (an ‘agent’ of candidate Trump) before making the payment to McDougal is correct, then AMI’s payment to McDougal was a political expenditure ‘coordinated’ with Trump.” He continued, “Coordinated expenditures are treated as in-kind contributions under campaign finance law and corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal candidates, so AMI’s payment to McDougal [would be] an illegal corporate contribution to Trump.” Indeed, this was the basis for complaints that Common Cause filed earlier this year with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
An experienced prosecutor notes how peculiar was Giuliani’s reaction to the tapes. The Post reported:
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of [the AMI payment] in advance,” Giuliani said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence.”However, the recording shows that Trump — whose spokeswoman denied he had any knowledge of the AMI deal with McDougal when it became public days before the election — in fact knew of her claims and efforts to keep her quiet at least two months earlier.
Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance tells me, “The only people who really need exculpatory evidence are defendants in criminal cases. It’s remarkable that that is where Giuliani’s thoughts turn first when he’s discussing a taped phone call involving his client.”
For Trump’s apologists, the revelation creates a new wave of angst. (The Los Angeles Times reported, “ ’We all knew there were going to be a lot of women cropping up with allegations and that it was Michael’s job to take care of it,’ said an associate of Cohen’s, speaking on condition of anonymity.”) If there are a flock of women — those whose names have already surfaced in association with Trump or others we have yet to hear about — who received similar payments, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that there was a conspiracy to avoid reporting embarrassing and possibly illegal campaign donations. While Trump’s evangelical lackeys gave him a “mulligan” on his payoff to Stormy Daniels, it’s not clear a wider audience will countenance a president who got through a campaign by secretly paying off gobs of women, especially if any of those women claimed to have been the victims of non-consensual sexual conduct.
There are many reasons (e.g., knowledge of Trump’s finances, awareness of Trump’s Russia connections) Trump has been freaked out by the search of Cohen’s office, hotel and home. Cohen is no John Dean, but in the end he may prove more problematic for Trump than Dean was to Nixon.