Trump says he’s not worried about impeachment – but after what just happened to Cohen, he really should be

Analysis: The president has claimed his supporters would 'revolt' if he was censured by congress

Andrew Buncombe
Seattle
Wednesday 12 December 2018 20:19
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Donald Trump denies involvement in Moscow project claiming Michael Cohen 'lying'

Sometimes Donald Trump opts for illusion, sometimes elision. Right now, it feels like a combination of the two.

Firstly the illusion. In an interview with Reuters the day before former lawyer Michael Cohen was jailed for three years for making hush money payments on the eve of the election, Trump said he was not concerned about the threat of impeachment.

The payments were a civil matter, he insisted, despite the fact his own Department of Justice considered them a criminal breach of campaign finance laws.

Then there is the elision – what he chose to leave out. When Cohen admitted his guilt last week in an arrangement with federal authorities that was a de facto plea deal, prosecutors said in court filings the 52-year-old told them the 2016 payments were made at the direction of the Republican candidate for the presidency.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments,” said the filing.

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“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1 [Mr Trump].”

Cohen, who was born and grew up in New York’s Long Island, once said he would take a bullet for Trump. That is very clearly no longer the case.

An emotional, tearful Cohen, complete with his trademark dark suit and sky blue tie, on Wednesday told New York judge William Pauley of the “smorgasbord” of crimes he was accused of: “I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today. It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”

In the eyes of many legal experts, Donald Trump now stands as an indicted co-conspirator. He has not been charged with any offence, but his own Department of Justice has cited as evidence testimony from Cohen that his crimes were committed at the president’s behest. Trump earlier this year admitted reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels, something he previously disputed knowing anything about.

In his interview with Reuters, Trump displayed a combination of swagger and threat when asked about impeachment.

“It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country,” he said. “I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

It is unclear what special counsel Robert Mueller concludes as to whether Trump obstructed justice or colluded with Moscow – both things the president has denied.

Some legal experts – among them independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation 20 years ago led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton – say it is impossible to criminally indict a sitting president. Others say it is not, and that is what the impeachment process is designed for.

As Democrats take charge of the House of Representatives next month, there will be plenty among them pushing for Trump’s impeachment. In a dramatic Oval Office encounter on Tuesday worthy of a Broadway stage, Nancy Pelosi, almost certain to become the next House speaker, told him: “Don’t characterise the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”

Even if the Democrats decide for tactical reasons not to seek Trump’s impeachment – Republicans suffered a major midterm backlash after Clinton’s impeachment by the House in 1998 – and even if it is decided the president cannot be indicted while in office, there are still dangers.

Earlier this month, Democrat Adam Schiff of California, the man about to become chair of the House intelligence committee, told CBS: “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.”

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