Michael Cohen visiting Iowa in 2011.
Photo Credit: IowaPolitics.com (CC-By-SA 2.0)

President Trump’s most vociferous critics have been calling for his impeachment since he took office. I’ve not been on board. Impeachment is not a process to get rid of a President you don’t like. Elections have consequences, and one of those consequences is that the President who is elected should be the President who serves. Heretofore, I’ve seen no evidence that would merit Congress voting for an impeachment inquiry. Until the plea deal involving President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen.

In his plea deal, Cohen stated he made two payments of hush money totaling $280,000 at the direction of then-candidate Trump to influence the election and avoid reporting contributions. Cohen was later reimbursed for these payments by the President. The Cohen plea deal alleges  Trump directed Cohen to violate federal campaign finance law.  If true, does this offense constitute high crimes and misdemeanors for which the President should be impeached and removed from office?

To answer that question, let’s consider the 1998 Impeachment of President Clinton. In that case,  House Republicans presented two articles of Impeachment against Clinton. One of these was obstruction of justice in a civil trial. The article alleged Clinton encouraged witnesses to lie, to produce false affidavits, and plotted to conceal evidence and influence Monica Lewinsky’s testimony by securing a job for her.

Democrats argued the entirety of what Clinton had done was merely personal as it involved actions in a civil suit and didn’t reflect on his office.  House Republicans, on the other hand, argued Clinton’s actions were in contravention of his constitutional duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Further that Clinton had “undermined the integrity of his office,” and “acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

The Republicans were right in 1998 and 1999 and what Cohen alleges is more serious than Clinton’s action. It suggests, while running for the Presidency of the United States, Donald Trump conspired with Mr. Cohen to undermine the very laws the President is sworn to uphold. If evidence shows the President is guilty, he should be impeached, removed of office, and disqualified from holding any other office.

Like Democrats of two decades past, Republicans will deny the seriousness of the President’s actions. Campaign finance violations frequently happen in Presidential campaigns. Most times the offending candidate is only fined. However,  campaign finance violations are not usually intentional on the part of the candidate. They are generally caused by sloppy bookkeeping, confusion about aspects of the regulations, or due to unethical or incompetent underlings. This is why President Obama’s campaign’s violations for failing to file 48-hour notices in a timely fashion didn’t merit investigation. Misfiled paperwork by the campaign office is not an impeachable offense.

It’s also not relevant that Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright once alleged that a confidante of  Obama offered him $150,000 to stop speaking out during the 2008 campaign. It would have been relevant if payment were made, and it would have merited an investigation to determine if President Obama knew about it and conspired to violate the law. In this case, no payment was made, and we only have Reverend Wright’s word that one was offered.

The President’s statement that he used own funds instead of campaign funds to pay the hush money is just an attempt to cloud the issue. The allegation is that the payments were made to influence the election and constituted an unreported campaign contribution and the payments were ultimately reimbursed by Trump’s company representing an illegal corporation campaign contribution. The most likely defense is that this was not political as Trump had made a lot of hush money payoffs to women and the ones made during the 2016 campaign were just part of that series.  However, as Allahpundit of Hot Air points out the time of the Stormy Daniels payoff is very problematic:

The Trump/Daniels liaison happened in 2006; Stormy told InTouch magazine about it in 2011. Cohen got wind of it at the time and evidently threatened InTouch if they published it, which they didn’t. Trump and Cohen could have bought Daniels’s silence at any point in the five years that followed. They declined. Cohen reportedly found out that she was shopping her story in September 2016, just weeks before the election, and even then he refused to pay her off. Only after the “Access Hollywood” tape surface did he finally scrounge up some cash to hush her up, no doubt fearing that evidence of adultery with a porn star while his pregnant wife was at home wouldn’t be ideal at a moment when women voters were already annoyed at him over the Billy Bush audio.

Mr. Cohen’s plea suggests that the President was aware of the law and intentionally conspired to violate it. Also, this assertion is supported by the phony invoices Mister Cohen made to the President’s company to receive reimbursements as it indicates an attempt to hide what happened.

Let me be clear, while Congress needs to launch an inquiry; it is too soon to call for impeachment and removal. We need an investigation to determine the truth. While what Mr. Cohen alleges is an impeachable offense, Cohen is far from an unimpeachable witness. His plea represents a change of story from what he said earlier in the year. Like many Trump associates, Cohen has severe credibility problems. We need to see what evidence can be brought forth to either corroborate or disprove Cohen’s allegations. Until that is done, a cloud will remain over  Trump’s presidency. The current Justice Department policy is that a sitting President cannot be indicted and that is as it should be. However, in such a circumstance, Congress should begin investigating.

I’m not optimistic that the House will do its duty and investigate these charges. However, the unlikelihood of members of Congress doing their duty should not stop citizens from demanding they do so. Congress must consider whether the President has committed high crimes and misdemeanors that merit impeachment and removal based on the fact his long-time attorney is going to prison for actions he alleges were taken at the President’s direction.

8 comments
  1. Adam, I don’t think a campaign finance charge necessarily constitutes an impeachable offense, especially in light of personal funds being used.

    It’s definitely gross and unethical. I’m also not convinced that Cohen is going to jail. I think the more interesting aspect of this story is what Cohen’s lawyer alleges – that Trump knew of a “conspiracy to collude” with Russia.

    https://twitter.com/SethAbramson/status/1032130598666678272

    That said, like you mentioned, Cohen is far from being an unimpeachable witness.

    1. BTW, I also thought impeaching Clinton was a bad idea. In my lifetime, Nixon is the only president in my lifetime that I think truly met the criteria to be impeached and thrown out of office. At least he had the good sense to resign. That’s not to say the Mueller investigation won’t produce something else, but I hope it’s more solid than the word of a guy getting a plea deal to save his bacon (who has also demonstrated his own questionable ethics).

    2. Shane, I won’t try argue with you about the Clinton impeachment-although you are wrong. 🙂 I would say that more than 90% of Republican Senators and 98% of Republican House members voted for Impeachment/Removal. Those who are still there and don’t support looking at this as a possible Impeachment have got some splainin’ to do.

      As I said in the article, I don’t think a generic campaign finance allegation is enough, but the way this is discussed sounds very much like a criminal conspiracy that’s inconsistent with seeing that the laws are faithfully enforced. I think we should avoid having a President above the law.

      That said, Cohen definitely needs corroboration. He has one tape that we’ve heard. Regardless, it’s an interesting situation where the President’s greatest defense in this case is that he’s surrounded himself with people who are unreliable and dishonest, and can’t be taken at their word.

      1. I wanted to clarify an earlier comment… Cohen won’t see jail time for the campaign finance violations…. The bank fraud and tax fraud charges that are unrelated to the campaign, which are far more serious, he likely will.

        “…the President’s greatest defense in this case is that he’s surrounded himself with people who are unreliable and dishonest, and can’t be taken at their word.”

        That’s true with the old guard. I think the new folks in his administration are pretty solid – i.e. no one who had anything to do with his former life before the White House. Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are the poster children for unethical behavior.

      2. I do agree that Republican members of Congress who voted for Clinton’s impeachment and removal and are still in office and are unwilling to act on evidence of an impeachable offense by President Trump are not being consistent. I think we need to slow our roll and wait for Mueller’s report.

  2. Don’t agree with you at all. Obama was caught giving hush money to Rev. Wright in Chicago, and he was never investigated for impeachment. It is Cohen’s word against Trump. Also, Cohen is represented by Lannie Davis, who is a Clinton crony. All the witch hunts against Trump need to stop., but especially one involving this baloney.

    1. Show me the video or audiotape or Obama giving hush money to Reverend Wright. You can’t because they don’t exist which means he wasn’t caught. As I stated, all we have on that count is Reverend Wright saying someone who was an associate of Obama’s approached him. Reverend Wright allegedly declined, therefore no payment was made, no campaign finance law could have been violated, no investigation was necessary. And we only have Reverend Wright’s word that the offer was even made.

      In addition, this “witch hunt” has produced indictments and the conviction of the President’s former campaign chairman.

      You may choose to believe “alternate facts” that Obama paid hush money to Reverend Wright on live television and that the Mueller investigation is witch hunt, I’ll stick with the real facts.

    2. Actually, he was never caught. Rev. Wright said they offered hush money. If money did exchange hands and it was not disclosed then that would be a problem. There’s no evidence that actually happened.

      I agree with you that this particular instance is weak sauce for an argument for impeachment. As far as, “all the witch hunts against Trump need to stop.” I disagree with your premise, it’s not a witch hunt. If there was corruption surround Trump we need to know it, and it needs to come out.

      It’s pretty obvious he surrounded himself with corrupted men – Manafort and Cohen. You are not found guilty, in Manafort’s case, or plea guilty if there isn’t something there – at least as far as the bank fraud and (in Cohen’s case) tax fraud charges.

      Re. the campaign finance violations being Cohen’s word vs. Trump’s. The problem is that his new attorney Rudy Guiliani is saying the payments were legal and said Trump reimbursed Cohen. So, it’s not so much as one person’s word against the other as it is a disagreement on what the law says. Like I told Adam, I think Trump’s bigger problem is if Cohen offers evidence that President Trump knew and directed “a conspiracy to collude” with Russia. The key word here is evidence, not just his testimony because it would need to be corroborated with something.

      I want to know the truth whether it clears or implicates Trump. No one is above the law.

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