DANIEL VAUGHAN: What to make of Cohen’s plea deal

August 24, 2018

DANIEL VAUGHAN: What to make of Cohen’s plea deal

When it comes to Michael Cohen, you can’t discuss his plea deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) without first going over a few points. The first: we know Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, is a congenital liar.

You don’t have to go back very far to see Cohen singing a different tune about the president.

Last year, Cohen was scheduled to speak before the Senate Intelligence Committee, tasked with their part of the Russian hacking probe. That testimony ended up getting postponed to October after Cohen leaked his prepared statements to the press, denied every direct or indirect allegation against him, and went so far as to claim he’d take a bullet for the president.

Then there’s Cohen’s varied approach toward his legal defense. He started out saying nothing to the media when Robert Mueller sent the Cohen matter over to the SDNY for investigation (it’s outside the scope of Mueller’s mandate).

He continued to declare loyalty to Trump during this time too.

Then, magically overnight in July, Cohen changed his tune and came out swinging.

Cohen started claiming he was willing to testify that Trump knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Trump’s sons and specific Russian officials. Even though now, Cohen admits he doesn’t know a thing about that meeting.

And it should be noted here that Cohen was under oath when he gave his Senate testimony last October. Now U.S. senators want him to re-testify to figure out if he perjured himself before a Senate committee.

In short, Michael Cohen has a very loose association with the truth.

His antics look far more like someone trying to appear overly critical by having his lawyers leak taped conversations while claiming to have more. Michael Cohen’s actions smack more of a man in search of a deal or a favor from Trump in the form of a pardon than a man who is suddenly truthful.

Cohen needs that deal, because of the eight charges he pleaded guilty to, only one deals with a campaign donation violation that implicates the president. The rest are specific to Cohen, according to CNBC:

In all, Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion; one count of making false statements to a financial institution; one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporation contribution; and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate.

Prosecutors are aiming for a 4-to-5 year prison sentence for Cohen.

But what if you take everything Cohen says at face value, and believe he’s telling the truth and that Donald Trump told him to violate campaign finance law? What then?

The answer is the same as it is for Mueller’s investigation. Donald Trump is a sitting president, and under current Justice Department guidelines, which U.S. attorneys are bound by, no sitting president can be indicted.

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) is the section of the DOJ responsible for the opinions surrounding indicting a sitting president. They’ve issued two memos on this front, one in 1973 and one in 2000.

Both times, the OLC found presidents have temporary immunity from criminal prosecution because of their unique status in the Constitution.

This means that the only way Cohen’s testimony matters, in the end, is if Democrats try to impeach Donald Trump. That’s it.

If prosecutors want a criminal indictment, they’ll have to wait until Trump leaves office. And by then, no one will care enough to pursue it.

Still, the impeachment point is vastly interesting because Democratic Party leadership doesn’t want to pursue impeachment.

When asked about the impeachment question, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went out of her way to avoid it, claiming in the wake of the Cohen admission that impeachment “isn’t a priority” for Democrats.

It’s hard to see how the Cohen revelation, if true, would hamper the president in any way when prosecutors don’t have indictment power, and Nancy Pelosi is too terrified of the electoral politics of impeachment to push it.

Of course, if you listen to CNN or the Democrat Party’s base (I repeat myself), it’s all impeachment 24/7, and Trump is always on the verge of jail time. #Resistance grifters are selling children’s books, monetizing their Twitter feeds, and buying Peter Strzok a new mansion based on this idiocy.

Here’s the reality of the situation. If Democrats want to pursue impeachment, Cohen’s plea deal admission gives them a legitimate crime to investigate.

If Democrats win the House, Nancy Pelosi will probably have to choose between impeachment proceedings or her job.

I’d fully expect for a Democratic majority in the House to impeach Trump — their rabid base will take nothing less. And then I’d fully expect the Senate to toss out whatever the House sent them because there’s nothing close to a majority of the Senate willing to impeach based on the testimony of one man whose relationship with the truth is so remote, not even the bridge to nowhere could reach it.

If you’re going to impeach a sitting president, you have to have the goods to back it up. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer understand this reality.

Their base does not.

Which brings us to the real issue at hand: the 2018 midterms. If you want to impeach Trump, vote Democrat. If not, then vote Republican.

That’s the only thing at play here, because prosecutors can’t indict Trump, and Democrats don’t want to get forced into impeachment.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.