Thursday, August 23, 2018

It Begins

And so it begins.

Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney and fixer plead guilty to several different counts including breaking campaign finance laws, multiple counts of tax evasion, and a single count of bank fraud.  In doing so, he implicated the president regarding the campaign finance violations.  Cohen told the judge that the payments to two women to keep them from speaking publicly of their affairs with the president during the 2016 election were made "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office."  He further stated that this conduct was "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

This is huge.  While Mr. Cohen is the latest in a string of people connected to the Trump campaign that have been convicted or plead guilty, he is the first to directly implicate the president.  Even Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's conviction, which came hours after Mr. Cohen's plea, did not directly concern the president himself.  Manafort's conviction on several counts of financial fraud focused on Manafort's own personal financial actions.

Cohen makes it clear that the campaign finance violations were directed by the president.  This allegation was made under oath, under penalty of perjruy.  And it would seem he has the tapes to back up these allegations.

Perhaps the oddest thing to me to come from these cases, is Trump himself downplaying campaign finance violations.

Trump is essentially trying to argue campaign finance violations are not a crime.  And while campaign finance violations can be both a criminal and civil violation, a knowing and deliberate violation of campaign finance laws is most definitely a crime.  It fulfills the "intent" requirement of a crime.  Further, a federal judge is not going to allow someone to plead guilty of something that is not a crime.

The violations that Trump mention for the Obama campaign did involve a big dollar amount, but from all evidence reflected a fairly low-level, benign paperwork error.  A mistake that was corrected by a civil fine. The fine was the among the largest ever levied against a presidential campaign according to the Federal Election Commission, but it was a reflection of the dollar amount involved in the campaign, not of intent.

Cohen's plea acknowledges knowing and deliberate campaign finance violations. An attempt to commit fraud.  That will always be a crime.  And if the president did indeed direct Cohen's actions, then he is involved in the crime as well.  Admittedly, this is not a huge crime in the scheme of federal crimes, but it is still fraud to sway the election and more than enough for "high crimes and misdemeanors."

So now we have the first sitting president since Richard Nixon accused of a crime.  Will Cohen be Trump's John Dean?

This is only the beginning.

Now, I don't say it often, but I do agree with President Trump on one thing.

Cohen's attorney tried to portray Michael Cohen as a patriot who put country over his previous client, President Trump.  I have a large problem with that sentiment.  It would seem Cohen is the very type of lawyer that gives my profession a bad name.  Someone who goes along with the crime until it starts to implicate them personally.  If Mr. Cohen had convictions, those should have been raised before engaging in the violations.  Thankfully, he will likely soon be disbarred.   The New York State Bar would not let him continue to practice after his guilty plea.  And that will not be easily reversed.

He may start the process to bring down a president, but he's not the type of lawyer I want representing us.

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