December 14, 2018

Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

“Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s one-time fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’ alleged sexual affairs… [in addition] the parent company of the National Enquirer acknowledged dispensing some of the hush money in concert with the Trump campaign.”

AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left believes there is clear evidence implicating Trump in a federal crime.

“The ‘knowing and willful’ standard for felony campaign-finance violations provides a loophole in enforcement large enough to drive a parade of Mack trucks through. But in this case, there’s a large and growing body of evidence that the violation was deliberate…

“Cohen lied to obtain the funds necessary for the payments. He was reimbursed by the Trump Organization, which falsely labeled them ‘legal expenses.’ Prosecutors have said that Cohen ‘acted in coordination with and at the direction of’ Trump, and that Cohen ‘coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign’… While state of mind is difficult to determine, people do not typically go to great lengths to hide conduct they believe is legal.”

The Atlantic

Moreover, “now that he has been hit with the cold reality of a three-year prison sentence, Cohen might find that extra spark of motivation to cooperate on topics that he previously declined to discuss…

"There is a mechanism, known as Rule 35, by which prosecutors can seek a reduction of a defendant's initial sentence if that defendant provides additional cooperation. Cohen clearly cannot expect a pardon from the President… so Rule 35 may be his only hope for reducing his time behind bars.”


Some note that whether the end result is more like Watergate or the Lewinsky affair depends on the results of the Mueller investigation.

“If… Mueller doesn’t manage to connect the dots and show meaningful Trump campaign collusion with Russia during election, and if there is no impeachment proceeding brought against Trump, it seems likely that collective historical memory will move Trump’s Daniels-related conduct into the Clinton category… But if Mueller comes up with specifics and Trump is indeed impeached, the Cohen material will certainly become part of the impeachment proceedings.”


“The Russia investigation could — could! — end up being Trump’s salvation... For every incremental new revelation about criminal activity by people related to the campaign or for every new development in the hush-money story, the immediate rejoinder from Trump and his base is consistent: Where’s the collusion? Show me the collusion…

“[Imagine] that the Russia investigation didn’t exist and that these campaign finance allegations — and Trump’s evolving misrepresentations about what happened — were the most significant issue the president faced. He’d still have defenders, but the direct pressure he faced would probably be more significant.”

Washington Post

The political calendar and Trump's approach could give grounds for optimism. Kim, who has presided over a limited form of economic development inside North Korea, is under pressure to deliver improvements in the lives of his people… So he has an incentive to try to seek economic benefits or aid from the United States and wants punishing economic sanctions lifted — a potential opening for US negotiators… Kim must realize that his chances of basking in this kind of legitimacy with a US President other than Trump are slim. So if he fears Trump could lose in 2020, he may reason the time may be ripe for a deal. And Trump wants nothing more than a big diplomatic breakthrough months before the election.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

The right argues that despite Cohen’s guilty plea, the payments in question were not campaign expenditures and therefore not criminal

From the Right

The right argues that despite Cohen’s guilty plea, the payments in question were not campaign expenditures and therefore not criminal

One former FEC member writes, “Cohen was ‘persuaded’ to plead guilty to an action that was not an actual violation of the law… the only time the Justice Department has ever tried to make such a claim before... the Justice Department lost. Furthermore, the Federal Election Commission… didn’t consider the hush-money donations to the Edwards campaign to be campaign-related expenditures when it audited the Edwards campaign.”

Fox News

A former FEC Chairman adds, “one of the primary factors separating campaign funds from personal funds is that the former must be spent on the candidate’s campaign, while the latter can be used to buy expensive vacations, cars, watches, furs, and such… This was done specifically to prevent candidates from claiming that things that benefitted them personally were done because they would also benefit the campaign…

“Mr. Trump had many valid, non-electoral reasons for trying to keep these allegations quiet, most notably family harmony, protecting family members… and preserving his future viability as a television personality in case he lost the election. Indeed, it is quite probable that many of those now baying for Trump’s scalp for illegal campaign contributions would be leading a charge to prosecute Trump for illegal ‘personal use’ of campaign funds had he made the payments from his campaign treasury.”

National Review

Beyond the issue of whether the payments were campaign expenditures, “there are major legal obstacles to Trump’s prosecution. One is whether he had the requisite intent of violating the law, and here the standard is very high. Trump can plausibly plead ignorance of the niceties of the law and say he was relying on the advice of his lawyer…

“The idea that Trump is going to lose reelection in November 2020, then having suffered the humiliation of getting booted by the voters, get indicted and stand trial on a dubious campaign-finance violation dating from 2016 is fantastical… Instead of a dastardly scheme to participate with the Russians in the hacking of Democratic emails to subvert the election, prosecutors have uncovered a dastardly scheme to try to keep from the voters — as if they weren’t aware — that Trump is a womanizer with low scruples.”


Worth noting: “many Republicans never liked and continue to oppose current campaign finance laws. They don't approve of limits on contributions by individuals, corporations, and others — they view those limits as restrictions on constitutionally-protected speech… Given that, many Republicans favor interpreting the law in the most limited way possible.”

Washington Examiner

“Not only did [Trump] attack the ‘squad,’ he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else… Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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