Allahpundit and I had some of the highlights of the Cohennado last night, but now the entire media world is swirling around in the storm Cohen has created. The general consensus which most of the MSM reached immediately was that this was Christmas in August. (Or Cohenmas?) Predictably, the WaPo editorial board has already labeled the President “an unindicted co-conspirator in the White House” and called for Congressional investigations into Cohen’s admissions
Not to be outdone, NBC News summed it up quickly as “The Darkest Day for the Presidency Since Watergate.”
There hasn’t been a darker moment for a president — or for the presidency — since Richard Nixon resigned on the verge of impeachment in 1974.
On Tuesday, Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime fixer and former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to felony crimes that included illegally paying women hush money to help Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016. Most important, he said he did so at Trump’s direction.
In other words, Trump cheated to win the White House, according to one of his closest former associates.
I’ll fully admit that it was a pretty bad day for President Trump no matter how you try to spin it, but saying that “Trump cheated to win the White House” might be a bit premature, to say the least. We know that Cohen is going to jail for some period of time, but what does it all mean for the White House?
First of all, anyone expecting the President to simply fold his cards and resign this week is probably living in a fantasy world. As bad as all of this looks, he still has some moves left on the board and I can’t imagine him conceding defeat and walking away. The first question he will likely raise is whether or not the Cohen payments to the two women in question actually qualify as an unrecorded campaign contribution. Keep in mind that Cohen confessing doesn’t mean Trump is convicted. For a parallel example, I would point you to the fact that we had someone plead guilty to bribing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, but the Mayor was never charged with taking a bribe. There has been a debate going sine the moment this story first broke over whether or not you could define the payments as being made to benefit the campaign or to save Trump’s marriage. I’d expect that question to come back into play.
But let’s just say that call goes against the President and the right people draw the conclusion that he broke campaign finance laws. If you can’t indict a sitting president, your only other recourse is impeachment. Even if the Democrats take over the House in January (a possibility which is looking more likely this morning) do you think the Senate would convict Trump during impeachment? Even if they all believe he did it, plenty of Republican senators could claim that a campaign finance violation doesn’t rise to the level of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Or they could just ignore the question entirely and refuse to vote to impeach. It is a political process rather than a legal one, after all.
With all of those possibilities floating on the horizon, why would Trump resign?
Of course, there may be other shoes waiting to drop. Cohen’s attorney has already stated that his client would be “more than happy” to talk to Mueller. (Or anyone really. Cohen is ready to sing like a canary.) Of course, veering off into purely speculative territory, it rather sounds like he’s already either been talking to Mueller or to someone acting on Mueller’s behalf. Why? I can’t help but wonder why Cohen would confess not just to making payments to the porn star and the Playboy model (which isn’t illegal), but specifically to having done it for the benefit of the campaign (making it a crime). Doing the first does nothing for Mueller. The second, however, could imperil the President greatly. If they have some recording of Cohen and Trump specifically discussing not just the mechanism for making the payments (which we already heard on tape), but the reason for doing it, perhaps that’s already a done deal. But if they don’t have that on tape or in writing, Trump will probably just claim that Cohen is lying about that part. And Cohen is on record lying to the press prior to this.
All in all, this is definitely a bad morning in the West Wing and the President can’t be too happy. But NBC might be painting this in a slightly more melodramatic fashion than is warranted by invoking Watergate. I just don’t see Donald Trump walking away at this point and there’s probably still a path for him to finish his first term, ugly though it may be.