Robert Khuzami is not exactly a household name, but he is heroic. Khuzami is the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who together with his team of assistant U.S. attorneys laid out in a damning sentencing memorandum the misdeeds of President Trump’s former private attorney Michael Cohen and of Individual-1, Trump.
The document reveals the sort of precise, thorough lawyer for which the SDNY is known. The case against Cohen for willful tax evasion, false statements to banks, illegal campaign contributions and false statements to Congress and to law enforcement is solid, detailed and most of all revealing of the venality of those in Trump’s inner circle.But it is Khuzami and his team’s laying out the serious offenses of Individual-1 that will be recognized as a major turning point in the Trump presidency. The SDNY does two things.
First, it makes the case that Individual-1 was personally involved in two payments to silence women with whom Trump had extramarital affairs. Cohen acted “In coordination and at the direction of Individual-1.” Khuzami has Cohen, but not only Cohen to back up its case. Those Editor-1 and Chairman-1 and the other unnamed individuals have almost certainly provided evidence; Cohen notes and recordings have apparently substantiated his testimony. Too many people and too much evidence points to Trump’s personal involvement in payments that the SDNY finds were illegal. Trump met with Chairman-1 and Cohen as far back as 2014 to set up a system to buy and kill stories harmful to Trump. That plan was activated twice during the 2016 presidential campaign. In this document we do not get a lot of detail about Cohen’s contemporaneous contact with individual-1, but we know from the tape recording already released that Trump was there to sign off on at least one payment in the waning days of the campaign. Trump and his lawyers should at this point be convinced that the connections between Trump and Cohen are well-documented.
Second, Khuzami and his team explain why Cohen and Individual-1′s crime is so serious. The commission of the campaign finance crimes “on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of federal campaign finance laws: transparency. . . . Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women . . . . Cohen clouded a process that Congress has painstakingly sought to keep transparent.” Now reread that substituting Individual-1 who directed and coordinated all of Cohen’s actions. The commission of the campaign finance crimes “on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of federal campaign finance laws: transparency. . . . [Individual-1] sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women . . . . [Individual-1] clouded a process that Congress has painstakingly sought to keep transparent.”
There is little doubt that if Trump were not president of the United States Individual-1 would be a defendant in a case the SDNY deems serious. The SDNY may be wrong on the law or the facts or both. But if not, and if the evidence substantiates the assertions made in the sentencing memorandum Individual-1 is implicated in a serious crime.
Outside of the SDNY filing we know that Cohen and Trump also concealed another key fact from the American public -- Trump’s ongoing attempt to secure a project worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Russia, a project that would have required the approval of a committed foe of the United States who was at that very time seeking to subvert our democracy and interfere with our election. If that was known do we think Trump would have been elected president?
It’s yet to be determined what DOJ and Congress will make of all this and of the mound of other evidence Mueller is accumulating. However, in a perfect world with a responsible Congress there would be ample basis simply on the campaign finance charge and the concealment of his dealings with Russia (about which Trump lied repeatedly and which go a long way toward explaining his pro-Russian sycophancy during the campaign) to impeach him. We don’t live in that perfect world, however, so don’t get your hopes up.
In any event, for their meticulous lawyering and tutoring the American people about the seriousness of concealing payments to Trump’s paramours we can say to the SDNY prosecutors, well done, ladies and gentlemen.