Two intertwined legal affairs have dealt a blow to a presidency that was already unstable. Will there be an impeachment? What impact will the scandal have on November midterm elections?
Donald Trump's administration has needed only two years to explode. Two intertwined legal affairs have dealt a blow to a presidency that was already unstable. The business tycoon's former personal lawyer and Trump clan’s "hound dog," Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to eight charges – one of them committed at the direction of the president himself – including violating campaign finance federal laws. Meanwhile, Paul Manafort, the president's "star" adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign, has been found guilty on eight felony counts of fraud.
The major American headlines describe the "beginning of the end" for President Trump, as well as the end of all hope that the Republican Party will win in the November midterm elections, or that conservative federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a key person in the investigation of Bill Clinton, will be confirmed as Supreme Court justice. Trump's enemies seem too optimistic. These are the key facts about the scandal shaking the foundation of the presidency.
Trump Clan’s ‘Hound Dog’
The controversial lawyer who claimed he would "take a bullet for Trump" ended up confessing under pressure from the FBI. Last Tuesday, Cohen formalized a deal in which he pleaded guilty to fraud and violation of campaign finance laws. The real hit is that, according to Cohen’s sworn declaration, Trump asked him to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actress "Stormy" Daniels in order to keep them from disclosing their affairs with then presidential candidate Trump.
The admissions by the man who earned the nickname "Trump's pit bull" (He told ABC news that "If you do something wrong, I'm going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I'm not going to let you go until I'm finished") essentially means that the president encouraged the commission of a crime.
"The president of the United States has been implicated in the commission of a federal crime. There is a very good chance that August 21, 2018, will forever be known as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency,” wrote Michael A. Cohen of The Boston Globe.
“The verdict in the Manafort trial isn’t nearly as worrisome to me as the Cohen agreement and the Cohen statement. It’s probably the worst thing so far in this whole investigation stage of the presidency,” Trump’s former adviser Michael Caputo told Politico.
CNN disclosed a recording last July 25 in which the president and Cohen argue about how to silence Playboy model McDougal, who had threatened to disclose her affair with Trump to the sensationalist National Enquirer. The FBI found this September 2016 recording at Cohen’s office two months before the presidential election.
Additional people working closely with Trump have acknowledged that the payments were made to McDougal and Daniels so they would remain silent. Last Tuesday, Cohen declared in court that the payments were made "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office" − that is, Trump himself. Trump’s current lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, admitted months ago that the president reimbursed Cohen the $130,000 Cohen paid actress Stormy Daniels.
Will There Be Impeachment?
Not for now. An impeachment proceeding is not intended to reverse the results of an election or undo a president's decisions, but rather, it concerns crimes involving abuse of power.
“Financial crimes cannot be considered as such. Advancing an impeachment is a decision that only Congress can take and, on the both occasions it has occurred (with respect to Andrew Johnson in 1868 and to Bill Clinton in 1998), the president has been absolved,” explained Pedro Rodríguez, an international relations instructor at the Pontifical University of Comillas, who believes it's too early to talk about the end of the presidency.
Trump: Cohen ‘Makes Up Stories’
November midterm elections are critical, since everyone is analyzing the scandal with the election calendar in sight. Last Tuesday, during a campaign rally in West Virginia – electorally speaking, the president's "promised land" – Trump avoided talking about Manafort. The next day, the president chose to separate the Cohen affair from that of his former campaign manager, whom he considers to be the victim of a “witch hunt.”
"Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break,’ or make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!” Trump tweeted.
The president also said, ironically, that he would not recommend his former lawyer's services. "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump said.