In August, after President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking federal campaign finance laws at the behest of his client, I wrote that Trump had become an illegitimate president. Now, it seems, the president’s own Justice Department agrees. Read the sentencing memorandum filed in Cohen’s case Friday by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York:
Cohen’s commission of two 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 the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. 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. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.
Keep in mind that these are the words of career prosecutors whose integrity remains unimpeachable for the simple reason that “Individual 1” hasn’t bothered to impeach them. He has been so busy smearing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his gang of “Angry Democrats” that he hasn’t had any vitriol left over for the prosecutors who have now all but charged the president with two felonies.
If Trump weren’t president, he probably would have been indicted by now. The only thing standing in the way are memoranda produced by the Nixon and Clinton Justice Departments arguing that a president can’t be prosecuted while in office — but then what else would you expect Nixon and Clinton appointees to say? It’s a safe bet that Trump’s own Justice Department would take the same view, but that only delays Trump’s day of reckoning. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggests that Trump could face indictment the minute he leaves office — and former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, normally a Trump defender, agrees.
And, of course, the illegal payment of hush money to the president’s playmates is only one tiny molecule of the titanic iceberg now bearing down on the SS Trump. In spite of the president’s desperate caterwauling that there is “NO COLLUSION” and “No Smocking Gun,” the evidence that the Trump campaign engaged in a conspiracy with Russian agents to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election continues to grow. On Friday, Mueller revealed yet another Trump-Russia contact, bringing to at least 14 the number of Trump associates known to have interacted with Russians during the campaign. Trump and his gang never once notified the FBI about any of these conversations. Instead, they lied repeatedly and shamelessly to cover up their acts, leaving the president vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Some of these lies are so significant that, if revealed, they easily could have swung the election. Imagine if voters had known that Trump was pursuing a development deal in Moscow even as he was locking up the Republican nomination — and modifying the Republican platform in a pro-Russian direction. Imagine if voters had known that the Trump campaign’s high command had met with Russian emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton just before the Russians started leaking stolen Clinton campaign documents. Imagine if voters had known that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in business with an individual linked to Russian intelligence. Imagine if voters had known that Trump consigliere Roger Stone knew in advance about the impending Russian release, via WikiLeaks, of documents stolen from Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Granted, as Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook noted in a Post op-ed, the general pattern of Russian interference was known in 2016. But events were shrouded in the fog of politics. The media were citing cybersecurity firms to report on Russian hacking, but Trump and his minions were denying and lying. On July 27, 2016, for example, Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia," and called any suggestion otherwise “ridiculous" and a “conspiracy theory." Thus Trump created just enough uncertainty to eke out a narrow electoral college win. There were voters credulous enough to believe the hacking could have been the work of a 400-pound coach potato. Such beliefs are no longer tenable — and are no longer held outside of a small coterie of brainwashed cultists.
What we are left with is a president who defrauded the American people to win office — and who is now protected by the immunity that his office confers. He is protected, too, by his dwindling band of followers in Congress who argue that Manafort should be pardoned for his financial crimes (Rep. Matt Gaetz) and that Trump should not be prosecuted for merely breaking campaign finance laws (Sen. Rand Paul). Rather than calling out the president for obstruction of justice, some lawmakers (I’m looking at you, Rep. Devin Nunes) assist him in that obstruction.
All it takes is 34 votes in the Senate and Trump can serve out his term even as his administration is consumed by the biggest political scandal in American history. Our long national nightmare is just beginning.