Opinion – by Bret Stephens, New York Time Opinion Columnist – August 22, 2018
Donald Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors
The principled case for impeachment is clear. What’s missing is the courage.
For all of my opposition to Donald Trump, I have long been skeptical of the political wisdom or evidentiary basis of efforts to impeach him.
At least that was my view until this week. Michael Cohen’s guilty plea changes this. The Constitution’s standard for impeachment is “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The standard is now met.
[OCS: Since the standard for impeachment is not well-understood by many attorneys, and it appears some constitutional law professors, it is an act of hubris that Bret Stevens, who is not an attorney nor a constitutional law expert, could assert that the “standard is now met” when he clearly should have stated, “I believe that the standard has now been met.”]
Trump’s longtime fixer acknowledged in court on Tuesday that he violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” That means Trump. That means that, as a candidate, Trump is credibly alleged to have purposefully conspired with Cohen to commit criminal acts. That means the duo did so “for purposes of influencing [an] election for Federal office,” which is the legal definition of a campaign contribution.
[OCS: While Cohen may have violated campaign finance laws, there is no proof that Donald Trump’s actions rise to a violation of campaign finance laws.
As for characterizing the payments associated with a Non-Disclosure Agreement as “hush money,” would that same characterization apply to the thousands of NDA’s executed each and every year, most to prevent reputational damage and reduce the possibility that a hateful or rogue personality could capitalize on non-public personal or corporate information?
And let us not forget, it wasn’t Donald Trump that violated the terms and conditions of the NDA, but the party who appears to have attempted to extort additional funds from Donald Trump now that he was running for high office. Possible in collusion with, or at the direction of, progressive democrat operatives?
One, can you believe an individual who appears to have been coerced, some might say tortured, into “confessing” his actions on behalf of Donald Trump.
Two, what Cohen did as an attorney, an advocate, for Donald Trump under the direction of Donald Trump presents a thorny issue. What if Donald Trump was free to undertake the actions he directed Cohen to perform as an attorney, but if Cohen performed those same actions without direction, they might give rise to civil and criminal consequences?
Three, since there were no court proceedings against Donald Trump before a trier of fact, we do not know that Trump’s actions rose to the level of being a crime or even civilly impermissible.
And four, while Trump’s personal actions may have had an effect on his candidacy, there is no ruling or adjudication proving that these actions were illegal. In fact, had Donald Trump used campaign funds for such a personal matter, he would have most surely violated the campaign finance rules and regulations. Since everything a candidate does, or does not do, may affect a campaign, is Bret Stephens suggesting that the campaign finance laws affect the personal, non-political, actions of a candidate even though the action may be have occurred prior to the campaign and taken for personal reasons?]
It also means that, as president, Trump allegedly sought to conceal the arrangement by failing to note in his 2017 financial disclosure forms his reimbursements to Cohen. The president most likely continues to lie to the American people about the nature and purpose of those payments.
[OCS: If Stephens is so positive that Trump’s actions were criminal in nature, why use the term allegedly – when Stephens is convinced that Trump did conceal his actions.
If Donald Trump believed that these NDAs were personal matters and paid out of personal or corporate funds, there would be no compelling reason for him to disclose the payments on any financial disclosure. As for his reimbursement of any payments to Cohen, attorneys, in their practice of law, often front funds to a client trusting they will be reimbursed when billed.
As for a candidate or even the President of the United States lying: one, they are not under oath; and two, his lies did not even rise to the level of former President Barack Obama lying about the healthcare of American citizens, the failure of the American government to protect at risk individuals in Benghazi, Libya, or any of the other scandals that swirled around the Obama White House.]
The Trumpian rebuttal to these charges is that Cohen is a sleazy lawyer and proven liar. And that the most prominent attempt to prosecute a political figure for violating campaign-finance laws — involving former Democratic senator and 2004 vice-presidential candidate John Edwards — failed in court. And that campaign-finance violations don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, anyway.
[OCS: In addition to being a sleazy lawyer and proven liar, he is a self-confessed criminal whose tax evasion and other financial crimes had absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump.
One wonders nobody was mentioning another disbarred attorney, Russia-born Evgeny Naumovich Freidman, known as Gene Freidman, who was an associate and mentor of Cohen in a number of taxi medallion deals and who is cooperating with investigators and prosecutors to cut his own deal for possible tax evasion and other crimes.]
But if Cohen’s lies as Trump’s lawyer are one thing, lying under oath to a federal judge is quite another. Cohen’s sentencing isn’t until December when he’s expected to be sent to prison for up to five years. If he's untruthful, that leaves plenty of time for any deceits to come to light. Ask yourself: Does he look like a guy eager to have his sentence doubled?
[OCS: Might it be more likely than not that Cohen will do or say anything to avoid a long prison sentence and reduce some of the outrageous attorney’s fees that will eventually bankrupt him. In fact one wonders who is actually paying his TV-lawyer/mouthpiece, a known Clinton operative and apologist, Lanny Davis.]
To suggest that this doesn’t amount to a felonious act also doesn’t pass the smell test. The president is now, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator on charges already prosecuted by the government as a criminal matter against Cohen. Why should a lighter standard apply to Trump, since he’s the one at whose direction Cohen claims to have carried out the payments?
[OCS: Assuming, once again, that Trump’s actions rise to the level of a crime and not simply one of those easily overlooked regulations that results in a campaign fine – like the $375,000 fine paid by the Obama campaign to the FEC for his 2008 campaign reporting violations and other unlawful activities. Hardly a “felonious” act.]
If breaking the law (by lying under oath) to conceal an affair was impeachable, why is breaking the law (by violating campaign-finance laws) to conceal an affair not impeachable?
[OCS: Stephens you schmuck, perjury is a major criminal offense, and as we have seen with the FEC’s fines for Obama’s 2008 campaign, campaign violations do not rise to that level of seriousness. And because Cohen pleaded guilty to a felony or felonies – most having nothing to do with the Russians or Donald Trump, it does not mean that the matter was adjudicated in a court of competent jurisdiction under a trier of fact. Therefore, Trump has not been accused of a crime by any authority with standing – except by schmucks in the mainstream media.]
If “cheating the electoral system” (by means of a burglary) was impeachable, why is cheating the electoral system (by means of illicit hush money) not impeachable?
[OCS: Huh? Again, Stephens in a schmuck. If one wants to look at campaign tampering, one need look no farther than Hillary Clinton’s alleged collusion with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democrat National Committee, to disadvantage Bernie Sanders during the primary process. If one wants to adopt Stephens’ position, why not ask why the staged dismissal of Hillary Clinton’s violation of the Espionage Act should not be treated similarly and everyone involved fired and prosecuted for interfering with an election. Hillary Clinton lost because she was unlikeable and her campaign believed spreadsheets over seasoned political operatives on the ground in battleground states.]
If cheating “our institutions” (by means of an “assault” in “every way” on the legal system) is impeachable, why is cheating those institutions (by means of nonstop presidential mendacity and relentless attacks on the Justice Department and the F.B.I.) not impeachable?
[OCS: Does Stephens’ schmuckery never end? Truth be told, the high-ranking members of the DOJ/FBI/DNI/CIA should all be investigated, prosecuted for attempting to cripple a Presidential candidate and disrupt a constitutionally-valid branch of government.]
Pragmatists will rejoin that there’s no sense in advocating impeachment when the G.O.P. controls Congress. I’m sorry that so many congressional Republicans have lost their sense of moral principle and institutional self-respect, but that’s a reason to seek Democratic victories in the fall. The Constitution matters more than a tax cut. What the Constitution demands is the impeachment and removal from office of this lawless president.
Bret L. Stephens joined The Times as an Op-Ed columnist in 2017 after a long career with The Wall Street Journal, where he was deputy editorial page editor and a foreign affairs columnist. Before that he was the editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.