Congress and Cohen Build The Case For Collateral Crimes

Below is my column in the BBC on the growing threats to President Donald Trump from allegations of collateral crimes after the testimony of Michael Cohen.

Here is the column:

“Let me… introduce myself.” 

Those words by Michael Cohen may have been the least needed portion of his testimony. He is truly a man who needs no introduction. 

What he needs is a reputation. Well, a good reputation anyway. 

Trump’s fixer was appearing less than 24 hours after being disbarred as a lawyer and a few weeks before he goes to jail for three years. 

So, let’s look at the messenger

While Cohen tried to portray himself as the redemptive sinner, few who knew Cohen bought the act. Cohen is a serial liar and thug-for-hire whose lack of legal skill was only surpassed by his lack of legal ethics. 

His testimony seemed to flail madly in every direction. He called Trump “a racist”, “a conman,” and “a cheat”. 

He was eager to recount how Trump lied about bone spurs to get out of Vietnam. He then reminded everyone that Trump attacked a real war hero, John McCain, for getting captured. He worked in how Trump got him to lie to the First Lady about his affairs.

It was riveting but largely irrelevant to the criminal allegations. 

The Republicans and the White House worked hard to establish the obvious – that Cohen is a convicted perjurer and con man. 

The evidence

Cohen is no daisy but he can still be a danger. He brought documents, including cheques signed by Trump, to bolster his claims of a pattern of criminal and dishonest practices. 

Virtually all of these allegations were far removed from the collusion allegations that led to the special counsel investigation and concerned Trump’s businesses.

Most of the examples that Cohen gave of Trump lying about his affairs or wealth or dealings were gratuitous and immaterial to criminal charges. 

It is not a crime to lie to the public or the media. If it were, most of the members of the committee would be serving time next to Trump. 

The WikiLeaks connection

One disclosure described as a “bombshell” was Cohen recounting that he heard Trump confidante Roger Stone tell Trump over the phone that he had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that WikiLeaks was about to dump a massive number of hacked emails related to Hillary Clinton and her campaign. 

Stone and WikiLeaks deny this account. However, the real problem is the date. Cohen said that this occurred just before the Democratic National Convention. That would put the call from mid- to late July 2016. However, WikiLeaks was already known to have the emails and was publicly teasing their release at least a month before. 

Moreover, there is nothing criminal in Stone or Trump wanting to see the emails or relishing their release. Cohen’s account of Trump’s delight at the news is hardly surprising – he publicly called on the Russians to release any hacked emails. 

Additionally, Trump was not the only one seeking dirt from foreign sources. While the campaign falsely denied funding the controversial “Steele dossier”, Clinton’s campaign later admitted that it paid a former British spy to gather information on Trump from foreign sources, including Russian intelligence.

Indeed, Cohen expressly said that he had no evidence of collusion with the Russians.

The hush money

Cohen also repeated his allegation that Trump encouraged him to arrange for the payment of hush money to a Playboy model and a porn star to bury news of his affairs. 

Cohen showed up bearing cheques with Trump’s signature – signed when he was president and still denying prior knowledge of the payments. 

This could amount to a campaign finance violation, but such violations are rarely charged as criminal matters and have had mixed success in prosecutions. 

The inflated assets

Where Cohen may have caused new problems for Trump was his accounting of dishonest business practices from using his charity to pay portraits of himself for his own benefit or misrepresenting assets in communications with insurance companies and banks. 

This included a curious series of asset reports that Cohen said were given to Deutsche Bank in a move to acquire the Buffalo Bills NFL team. 

Trump’s stated value seemed to jump from $4.56bn in 2012 to $8.66bn in 2013. 

It is not clear what that asset increase was based on and whether the figures were put into any formal loan documents. However, any misrepresentation of wealth and liabilities can form the basis of bank fraud allegations. 

What is clear is that Trump is looking at a growing threat not from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian collusion, but the investigation into his business practices by the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

And attacking Cohen’s lack of credibility will not change bank records. 

From Cohn to Cohen

Trump has been quoted about his respect for Roy Cohn, who was the right-hand man to Joe McCarthy during the “Red Scare” period. He was widely viewed as an unethical and vile human being. He was also Trump’s lawyer. 

In March 2016, Trump reportedly asked in frustration: “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” That man would prove to be Michael Cohen who had the same sense of freedom from rules of ethics or law. 

Like Cohn, Cohen was known to threaten and bully people into submission. Like Cohn, Cohen would be disbarred for his unethical acts. 

Many believe that Cohn was the person who taught Trump to never admit fault and always counterpunch. Cohn once said: “I bring out the worst in my enemies and that’s how I get them to defeat themselves.” 

In the end, Cohn died a disbarred lawyer being pursued by the IRS for millions. Cohen is now a disbarred lawyer who is going to prison for, among other things, five counts of tax evasion. 

Of course, Trump has no need to ask “where’s my Michael Cohen” in the coming months. He will be in the federal penitentiary.

And the I-word

After the hearing in the House Oversight Committee, Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings stated that he now believes that Trump not only committed crimes but “it appears that [Trump] did” commit crimes in office. 

If true, Trump may be not only looking at a political push for impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. 

But criminal charges after he leaves office.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and served as the last lead defence counsel in an impeachment in the US Senate

119 thoughts on “Congress and Cohen Build The Case For Collateral Crimes”

  1. How many of these inquiries can be disposed of the same way that Holder/Obama answered for Fast & Furious? If I remember correctly that was a middle finger called Executive Privilege.

  2. The Dems couldn’t care less what the Southern District does after Trump is out of office.
    Their only concern is winning the Presidency in 2020, and just like 2016, they’ll use the legal-judicial weaponization as a campaigning tool. It’s up to Bill Barr and the AGs of the States to step back from partisanization of the legal system to win elections.

  3. So who and what is the left really working for? Five good choices maybe four.

    If they are in the ruling class aka the establishment themselves and the re-establishment of the aristocracy.

    If they are partially in the ruling class aka

    If they are in the Collective as block wardens etc. or a larger slice of free stuff*

    If they are the Main Group the New Socialist Men, Women and abeghjkqruvxyz whatever they are told to be for. but DINOs now enters the picture. Feel free to delete

    and number five the agents provocateur in full poseur regalia. the press, the educators, and in particular the RINOs who are really DINOs in disguise.

    All of whom who have one thing in common. Total rejection of their oaths of citizenship or of office in favor of loyalty to a foreign ideology, geographicaly and philosophically speaking. (Thinking is not listed nor is it allowed.)

    *perSONs like AOC whiole Pelosinilla The Crumb Queen are in the group immediately prior. No politician are higher than the second group.

  4. “Congress and Cohen Build The Case For Collateral Crimes”

    Why limit the players to just Cohen? Were Bill Clinton, John Podesta, Maxine Waters, Jack the Ripper, Venezuela’s Ernesto Maduro, Savanarola and just for sheets and giggles, throw in relatives of the MediciFamily….that would make a much more reliable witness list. And if all of them fail, then Shiva the Goddess of Hinduism, witches and warlocks and adding the chief witch and deranged maniac Hillary Clinton to the “reliable sources” (along with those all so important “anonymous sources” from the Wa comPOST), certainly they can come up with something. having Sheila Jackson Lee preside over such a court would be if nothing else entertaining. A few trees with ropes hanging near by would complete the circus.

    Of course nothing works better in attracting evil demons than wearing a necklace of garlic, so you got that too to add to the rumble

    Sadly it looks like we might be stuck with Donald Trump for a second term instead of a more composed and thoughtful Republican or Independent because given the way Democrats are howling at the moon every night about Trump passing gas or the way he tinkles, one wonders how anyone can keep a straight face while watching Dims act like the true jackasses they embody

    Another day in these divided states

  5. He was eager to recount how Trump lied about bone spurs to get out of Vietnam. He then reminded everyone that Trump attacked a real war hero, John McCain, for getting captured. He worked in how Trump got him to lie to the First Lady about his affairs.

    Why would Cohen know anything about Donald Trump’s dealings with his draft board nearly 40 years before he’d ever met Donald Trump?

    For the record, Trump received a I-Y deferment for a minor medical problem. These deferments weren’t rare and north of 200,000 people received one in a typical year. I knew a fellow who received one because he had eczema on his feet. Other people received them for being overweight or underweight. A I-Y deferment was not a categorical disqualification for service like the 4-F medical deferment. It sent you to the back of the queue. You could be recalled for another physical in as little as 90 days. Trump wasn’t recalled. About 18 months later, the draft lottery was instituted. Trump’s obligations and those of his brother were determined by the results of the lottery held in December 1969. Both had lottery numbers which were high enough that they were not called in for an examination during the calendar year 1970. Everyone born prior to 1951 was excused from conscription thereafter. Trump and his brother received no privileges. Everyone born during the period running from the beginning of 1944 to the end of 1950 who had yet to serve in the military at the end of 1969 faced the same procedure. The dispensations Trump and his brother received prior to 1970 were not rare, but applied to hundreds-of-thousands of people born prior to 1952.

    1. “hundreds-of-thousands’ in each cohort. Millions in toto among those born during the years running from 1939 to 1951.

      1. From the Wikipedia article on Augusto Cesar Sandion:

        Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by National Guard forces of Gen. Anastasio Somoza García, who went on to seize power in a coup d’état two years later.

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