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- The president has entered some very precarious territory.
I’m not predicting impeachment (though it’s possible if Dems win the House in November) or conviction (unlikely in any case), but everything changed with lawyer/fixer/better-call-Saul-er Michael Cohen’s guilty plea in which he implicated Trump as co-conspirator-in-chief.
It’s no ordinary co-conspirator implication. Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws in paying off two women “in coordination” with and “at the direction of” an unnamed candidate in 2016. We know the unnamed candidate. We know the women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. We know they were paid hush money to keep quiet about alleged Trump affairs in the days leading up to the election. We know that Cohen said, in his guilty plea, that he did this with the “principal purpose of influencing” the election. We know 80,000 votes in three states decided the election.
You want more? The Washington Post reports that legal filings from April 21 show that the Trump Organization paid Cohen $420,000 for the hush money, which Cohen justified by turning in “sham” invoices. These monthly invoices, by the way, were paid after Trump was elected president. Trump will say he doesn’t know anything about this. After all, he doesn’t know anything about, say, trade. Or health care. Or, well, you get the idea. But I’m not sure ignorance works here.
Cohen is a well-known liar, of course. He was also a well-known liar under oath taking a plea that would put him away for maybe five years and desperately looking for a way out.
Trump tweeted on Day 2 of the most damaging (so far) period of his presidency that if you’re looking for a lawyer, don’t hire Cohen. What was left unsaid, of course, is don’t hire Cohen unless, that is, you’re looking for a crooked lawyer.
Which, it’s easy enough to surmise, is exactly what Trump was looking for.
At this point, Trump’s former campaign manager, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Trump’s trusted lawyer, Trump’s national security adviser and Trump’s campaign foreign-policy adviser have all either been convicted or pleaded guilty to felonies.
No wonder the New York Daily News’ front-page headline was “All the President’s Henchmen.”
Meanwhile, Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis (didn’t you think/hope we’d seen the last of him forever?) said Cohen did not want to be “dirtied” by a pardon from Donald Trump. When Cohen calls you dirty, you’re at least waist deep in the big muddy. Davis also said, or at least heavily implied, that Cohen has so much more on Trump, on the Russia meeting, on the Russia hacking, on the hush money, on God knows what else. Cohen is ready to talk to Mueller and you know Mueller has the tape recorders warming up. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal has reported that longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker have been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the Cohen case.
So, impeachment? Democratic politicians don’t even like to say the word, at least not until after the midterms. Bret Stephens, the conservative New York Times columnist, has tweeted that Trump should resign or be impeached. You’ll see more like that in the coming days. And guess who else has already chimed in? Yes, our own Victor Mitchell, runner-up in the Republican primary for governor, has called for Trump to resign.
The Manafort-Cohen verdict day — which some are comparing to the day John Dean testified before the Senate Watergate committee — will have, no doubt, a huge impact on the midterms, in which Democrats were already slight favorites to retake the House. It may have an impact on the Senate, too, which Democrats are underdogs to win back.
If you want to understand why Trump still has approval ratings in the low 40s, all you would have had to do is get up close and personal with the Trump base at his West Virginia unironic “lock her up” rally on the night of Aug. 20. If you want to understand the fix the enabling Republican Congress finds itself in, watch as they pretend that nothing has changed, nothing new needs to be investigated and that they’re perfectly fine with not following the Trump hush money.
Let’s see how far-reaching this thing could go. It’s no more than a footnote, I guess, that standing by Trump’s side (actually a few steps behind in the photo I saw) on Monday was Sen. Cory Gardner. He presumably wasn’t there simply to lend support for the Embattled One, but to join him at a rally for West Virginia senatorial candidate Patrick Morrisey.
Will Gardner, whose job it is to run the GOP Senate campaign team, spend the next few months traveling with Trump to this rally and that? I mean, do you think Gardner would rather be photographed with Trump these days or with his Filipino handshake buddy Rodrigo Duterte?
And here’s the thing: At some point, presumably, Gardner will have to actually answer questions about the Trump situation. He hasn’t yet, but it’s his job to go on TV and lay out the getting-Republicans-elected strategy, which is now facing a few more bumps than it did in early August.
We already have Trump saying that none of this has anything to do with collusion, as if, yeah, he committed some impeachable offenses — and, yeah, he’d be indicted right now if he weren’t president — but where’s the collusion evidence? Well, Manafort is now facing the rest of his life in prison. If he flips, we may get some evidence. If Trump pardons him, the impeachment talk will get only louder.
For Trump, the real problem is that Mueller is not nearly finished. And though Trump, as president, can’t be indicted — that’s the Justice Department’s position anyway — Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, just as two examples, can be. Remember Nixon and the tapes? We have Cohen and tapes and Omarosa and tapes and not a Rose Mary Woods in sight.
Trump, in his desperation, keeps calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. Well, the hunt has hit home, and, if you look closely, you can see the outlines of a coven not far from the Oval Office.