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.

From the Right

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

“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.”

CNN

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.”

Bloomberg


“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


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.”

Politico



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


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