Trump faces 'very real prospect of jail time' over new court filings, new House Intelligence chairman says

Congress 'will not shield' president, opposition figures warn

Sarah Harvard
New York
Monday 10 December 2018 01:06 GMT
Key Watergate figure John Dean says Congress will have to 'start impeachment proceedings' against Donald Trump following court filing

Prosecutors may seek to indict Donald Trump as soon as he leaves office over bombshell court filings released on Friday, a senior Democrat has claimed, as the opposition party ramped up plans to assail the president in the second half of his term.

“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 very real prospect of jail time,” California Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

With a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, opposition politicians are looking to aggressively investigate possible election interference and fraudulent efforts in obtaining the highest office in the country. Jerrold Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Republicans failed to do so.

“The Republican Congress absolutely tried to shield the president,” the New York Democrat said on CNN’s State of the Union. “The new Congress will not try to shield the president. It will try to get to the bottom of this in order to serve the American people and stop this massive fraud on the American people.”

In the court filings, prosecutors suggested that Mr Trump ordered Michael Cohen, who was his attorney at the time, to commit two felonies: making illegal payments to women in exchange for silence on their alleged sexual encounters with Mr Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Trump committed impeachable offences if it could be proved that, during his presidential campaign, he ordered Mr Cohen to pay illegal hush money to women to keep mum about alleged sexual encounters, Mr Nadler said.

“Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” Mr Nadler added. “But certainly, they’d be impeachable offences, because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.

“What these indictments and filings show is that the president was at the centre of a massive fraud – several massive frauds against the American people,” he added.

The Department of Justice has argued that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted, a position that has been disputed among legal theorists and politicians, but Mr Schiff believes the “powerful case” prosecutors made for Mr Cohen, Mr Trump’s former lawyer, to serve a prison sentence may apply equally to the president.

“To have the Justice Department basically say that the president of the United States not only coordinated but directed an illegal campaign scheme that may have had an election-altering impact is pretty breathtaking,” he added.

Mr Schiff said that the House Intelligence Committee will look to bring Mr Cohen to testify before Congress. Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in his previous testimony. Mr Schiff said the committee had been in touch with Mr Cohen’s lawyer.

In the legal filings, the Justice Department stopped short of accusing Mr Trump of directly committing a crime. But it said Mr Trump told Mr Cohen to make illegal payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago.

In separate filings, Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team detailed how Mr Cohen had spoken to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.”’

Mr Cohen said he never followed up on that meeting. Mr Mueller’s team also said former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida called the latest filings “relevant” in judging Mr Trump’s fitness for office but said politicians needed more information to render judgment. He also warned the White House about considering a pardon for Manafort, saying such a step could trigger congressional debate about limiting a president’s pardon powers.

Such a move would be “a terrible mistake,” Mr Rubio said. “Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”

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Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, cautioned against a rush to impeachment, which he said citizens could interpret as “political revenge and a coup against the president.”

“The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections,” Mr King said. “I’m a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it’s a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation. We may get there, but we’re not there now.”

Additional reporting by AP

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