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 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 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.