Cohen Gives Democrats Roadmap For Collateral Crimes

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the implications of the testimony of Michael Cohen last week. This weekend, House and Senate Democrats publicly claimed to have evidence of obstruction and collusion, though the most important news is that all of the Committees are issuing a storm of subpoenas.

Here is the column:

In his testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen faced an obvious challenge as a convicted perjurer who was not just disbarred the day before but soon will be serving time for a myriad of federal crimes. Everything in Washington is relative, particularly truth.

Cohen, yet again, found a way to be useful in spite of himself. He was useful to Donald Trump and then later became useful to special counsel Robert Mueller. This time he was useful to majority House Democrats. He sprinkled apologies among gratuitous attacks on Trump and juicy stories of Trump mocking Vietnam veterans, getting Cohen to lie to the first lady, or rigging bids on his own portrait. All embarrassing details, but what makes for good television does not always make for good prosecutions.

But Cohen also offered an array of possible new criminal allegations against Trump. His testimony will not only afford a basis for issuing new subpoenas but also for expanding oversight investigations into Trump’s business practices. In other words, Cohen has found a home. In that, the Democrats appear to be following the approach of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, when asked about his opposition to dictators around the world but his tolerance of Nicaragua’s ruthless Anastasio Somoza, replied, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Democrats, however, should keep in mind that the guiding strategy with Cohen is “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware.” Cohen is facing scrutiny over his surprising claim that he had no interest in a White House job and turned one down because he wanted to remain private counsel, which is directly contradicted by reports and alleged to be a new act of perjury.

His testimony was often short on details, and much of the information was already known or not cognizable crimes. Much was based more on his suspicions than his knowledge and, worse yet, his veracity. Like his sense of legal ethics, there may be less than meets the eye in the sensational appearance of Cohen. Here is an initial appraisal of what he brought to the table here, from the weakest to the strongest criminal allegations.

Russian collusion

As I have previously written, Cohen has always been a greater threat to Trump than the Russian collusion allegations being investigated by the special counsel. Indeed, the hearing spotlights how the original collusion allegations have receded in importance. Cohen admitted that he does not have evidence of collusion and offered nothing that helped substantiate it.

One of his “bombshell” allegations was that Roger Stone phoned Trump to tell him that Stone had spoken with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that the organization was about to release a “massive dump of emails that would damage” the Hillary Clinton campaign. Stone and WikiLeaks deny the account. However, even if true, it could prove that Trump lied to the public about his knowledge, but not a crime connected to collusion.

This was July 2016 after it already was publicly known that WikiLeaks had the material and was teasing its release the previous month. Cohen does not suggest that Trump had any prior knowledge or role in hacking the DemocratsTrump’s interest, even glee, over the release is not a crime, any more than it was for countless journalists trying to see the material.

False statements

Cohen spent a considerable amount of his time trying to establish that Trump is a liar. He repeated his past allegation and supplied evidence that Trump knew and participated, despite earlier denials, in the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal over their alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen gave detailed accounts to show that Trump lied when he denied knowing about the payments and denied reimbursing those payments.

Cohen offered other examples of Trump lying, from alleged false medical claims to avoid military service during the Vietnam War to a false account from Cohen to first lady Melania Trump denying his affairs. Cohen also referred to a previous allegation of Trump misrepresenting his net worth to Forbes Magazine. That was discussed during the election. However, lying to the media, or even to the public, is again not a crime. Indeed, some in Washington have made a virtual art form out of lying to both.

Charity fraud

Cohen alleged that Trump ordered him to arrange for a third party to bid on a Trump portrait to guarantee that it would receive the highest price at a Hamptons auction. Trump thereafter tweeted about it as evidence of his popularity. That is also not a crime. But Cohen alleged that Trump ordered using money from his charity for the purchase, then put the portrait in one of his properties. That would be illegal. There are other reports of using foundation money for personal benefit. However, the Trump Foundation was closed last year over such improprieties, and criminal cases remain rare for such violations after the forced disbanding of such organizations.

Campaign violations

Cohen moved into cognizable criminal violations with new evidence to show the role of Trump the payment of money to his alleged mistresses, including past checks signed by Trump. Such violations are rarely brought as criminal matters and difficult to prosecute, as shown by the failed 2012 prosecution of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Nevertheless, the checks show dates extending into the term of office as president, which could be used to support impeachment proceedings.

Transactional crimes

The most serious allegations are far removed from Russian hackers and alleged “deep state” conspirators. Cohen detailed alleged transactional crimes, from false insurance claims to false bank filings related to Trump businesses. He said the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York is pursuing such criminal conduct in its ongoing investigation.

Cohen alleged that Trump committed insurance fraud by overstating the value of damages in claims filings. His most intriguing allegations involved Trump showing interest in buying the Buffalo Bills. Cohen provided the committee with financial statements from 2011 to 2013 and said Trump gave those documents to Deutsche Bank in his 2014 attempt to get a loan to purchase the football team. The documents show a sudden increase in wealth from $4.26 billion in 2011 and $4.56 billion in 2012 to $8.66 billion in 2013. This increase was attributed to the addition of “brand value.”

If that was a false account, it could be charged as bank fraud. However, there are different types of representations made during the course of such a major loan or deal. Not all of the early representations are certified as statements of assets for a loan or transaction. Cohen is sketchy on critical details and when such information was supplied to the bank.

Of course, the Justice Department continues to maintain, incorrectly in my view, that a sitting president cannot be indicted. That would mean any prosecution could be delayed until after the president leaves office. Fraud claims can have statutes of limitations from five to 10 years. That could present a serious complication for prosecutors, depending on the specific charge. Nevertheless, as some of us have maintained for more than a year now, the real threat to Trump is likely to come from collateral rather than collusion crimes. Cohen just gave Congress a roadmap to look for them.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

49 thoughts on “Cohen Gives Democrats Roadmap For Collateral Crimes”

  1. Lisa Page to Peter Strzok on Loretta Lynch, “And yeah, it’s a real profile in couragw [sic], since she knows no charges will be brought.”

    Report details Sky Harbor meeting between Clinton and Lynch

    ‘It was a 110-degree day in Phoenix and the U.S. attorney general was getting ready to leave her plane at Sky Harbor International Airport when, as she remembers it, someone told her former President Bill Clinton wanted to chat. As detailed in a report released Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, Loretta Lynch, then the attorney general, expected not much more than a quick hello. Clinton, on the other hand, seemed in the mood to chat on that June 2016 evening. Lynch, according to her interview in the report, said she felt increasingly uncomfortable as the minutes ticked by and Bill Clinton showed no signs of leaving. Meanwhile, her aides, sitting in a vehicle on the Sky Harbor tarmac became fidgety, the report says. Finally, one aide bolted from the vehicle and announced she was heading into the plane. That meeting at the Phoenix airport would prove consequential. At the time, Lynch’s Department of Justice was investigating presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her handling of classified information sent through emails. The 20 minutes with Bill Clinton would cement then-FBI Director James Comey’s decision that he, and not Lynch, would be the person to publicly announce that Clinton would not face criminal charges. Comey, in that July statement, said that while Clinton did not break the law, her handling of classified material was “extremely careless.”

  2. Peter Strzok to Lisa Page, “We’ll stop it.”

    Lisa Page to Peter Strzok, “POTUS (Obama) wants to know everything we’re doing.”

    Lisa Page to Congress, “The texts mean what the texts say.”

  3. The Obama Coup D’etat in America is the most egregious abuse of power and the most prodigious scandal in American political history.

    Obama’s co-conspirators are:

    Rosenstein, Mueller/Team, Comey, McCabe, Strozk, Page, Kadzic, Yates, Baker, Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Priestap, Kortan, Campbell,

    Steele, Simpson, Joseph Mifsud, Stefan “The Walrus” Halper, Kerry, Hillary, Huma, Mills, Brennan, Clapper, Lerner, Farkas, Power, Lynch,

    Rice, Jarrett, Obama, Sessions et al.

  4. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) requires the determination that a “…criminal investigation…,” not a counter-intelligence operation or investigation, is warranted. The CFR requires probable cause that a “crime,” not foreign espionage, was committed. Russian “collusion” is not a crime. No probable cause existed for Russian “collusion.” The appointment of a special counsel was a criminal act as abuse of power and “malicious prosecution.”

    28 CFR § 600.1 – Grounds for appointing a Special Counsel.

    “The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted and –

    (a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney’s Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and

    (b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

  5. “In the law of the United States, attorney–client privilege or lawyer–client privilege is a “client’s right privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and the attorney.”

    – Wiki

  6. Ya know it’s bad when lawyers hire lawyers and their lawyers hire more lawyers for them. And in DC right now, Trump’s lawyers are going thru every name in the book, looking for help. They will need it.

  7. Turley at least gets the big picture right, which is not whether Cohen needs to be trusted, but that what he said is worth pursuing based on his unique position and inside knowledge which related while under oath about the most powerful man on earth. That the GOP and Trump stooges on this board pretended it was about Cohen and nothing he said would be of any use is either as stupid as it gets – probably describes the board comments – or as cynical as it gets – certainly describes the thought out GOP position.

    It’s hard to have a democracy with a voting public so full of easy marks.

    1. Anon, the Trump cult loves being used as useful idiots. Case in point, Cohen is a liar, Trump tells it as it is. Reality is determined by what they think, or say, not factual evidence.

      1. Fishwings, reality is determined by facts and data. If you had either of them one would listen to what you had to say.

        1. Your’e right allen, then why the hell do you not believe in facts and data? Because it’s not the facts and data you what to hear? You have made it very clear, your rules are your facts and data.

          1. Bring into the debate your facts and data Fishwings. We can then compare them to reality. That is all I ask. When I bring in facts and data you can’t challenge them. All you can do is cry ‘not true’ but that is where the debate ends.

            1. Putting words in my mouth is the oldest trick in the book. I do not have to do your homework for you, the facts and data are out there clear and simple, you act like you don’t want to hear them. And for good reason.

              1. “Putting words in my mouth is the oldest trick in the book.”

                I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I want your mouth to produce facts and evidence. I have produced evidence to the contrary of what you say. I can’t prove a negative. Don’t make a statement of fact unless you can prove it. That is simple. The other way is ignorant.

    2. You guys don’t get it. For my part, I am looking for a Dux Bellorum, not a saint.

      Trump gets high marks for resolve, determination, flexibility, and resourcefulness.

      We want a wolf at the front of our pack not a poodle. You keep on thinking we are suckers, that’s just fine.

      1. Determination to make an ass of himself at all times is not a plus. He has no moral compass, his Flexibility is based on which acolyte spoke to him last. $100M plus inheritance is a great resource but his idea of resourcefulness is to start a new shitstorm to divert from his last shitstorm. No resolve, the only resolution is impeachment.

        1. The Left does not believe in “moral compass.” they believe in relativism informed by class dialectic, and Nietzsche-an will-to-power. That is understandable. All existence is a struggle for resources among groups.

          Finally, we have a suitable leader teaching Republicans Nietzsche-an will-to-power as well, informed by tribal dialectic. That is understandable. All existence is a struggle for resources among groups.

          The proper moral compass has success guiding it, not failure.

          1. All existence is a struggle for resources among groups.

            It is nothing of the kind.

            1. really, then, pray tell us what existence really is?

              I can make a biological argument for my assertion, but I await your insight.

              1. Humans – and insects it turns out – have shown that intense socialization, i.e., cooperation has been the hallmark of our species success.

      2. Your post encourages one in the conviction you are suckers. “Resolve, determination…”? Are you kidding me? Trump did nothing about the wall while he had a GOP House and would have done nothing now if Coulter and Limbaugh hadn’t called him out. How far can he kick this can – I mean losing political prop – down the road is the only “resourcefulness” he’s shown. He cares about border security like he cares about Obama’s birth certificate – it;s his ticket to 40% of the vote.

        And the rubes still by Trump Water.

  8. Collateral is now a crime? Like Collusion? Good Grief is Coughing next?

    1. it could get worse with David Brock placing his index finger up your inguinal canal and having you cough then. Thats the initiation process that his paid trolls undergo

      1. You do know that David Brock was a very high up republican operative for years right? He was Tea Party and Neo- conservative before the term was invented. He crafted messages for the right-wing for years. He said he quit the Republican party when he knew that they were going for pure propaganda instead of policy. Maybe you should try Google and look him up. He wrote a book titled, Blinded by the Right.

        1. David Brock was and remains a sleazeball and an opportunist. It doesn’t make a difference which party he belongs to.

          1. As Fishwings said he is a former rethuglican and that stain does not wear off quickly.

            1. YNOT, I really don’t care too much for either party. I think both parties are dumping on the American people. So far Trump has been a positive force based on the data out there. I will support him as long as he continues in the direction he has been moving.

                    1. Re a wall: “Who doesn’t? Why doesn’t he do something about it?”

                      He is. HE is attacking border security on many fronts and also wishes to change our immigration policy along with who is considered American. Along with more border patrol, technology, beds for families and his negotiations with foreign leaders he wants a wall. Democrats don’t even permit family accomodations at the border cutting the number so that instead of children getting vaccinated and seen by physicians they are sent directly into our communities for lack of accomodations. You are very disningenuous.

    1. Meh. Hemlock is more in keeping with Greek Drama, and if we ever saw a group of Greek Dramatists who scoff at the public while claiming to “protect the republic”, that would include Pelosi et al

      Socrates wouldn’t have lasted a month in these glorious United States with the Dems screaming inanities at him….”poisoning the minds of chillens!!!”

  9. Insurance Claim

    An Insurance Adjuster puts the value on the damage (not the policy holder) the Adjuster is hired by the Insurance Company or is employee by them

    Any change or dispute in that damaged value amount has to be proved by appraisals ~ letter of authenticity etc

    It is not a guessing game and anyone who has ever filed an insurance claim knows the Insurance Company does everything in their power to low ball the dollar amount of the claim to out right denying the claim

    As I read this on what allegedly Trump did a little well known book titled “Clinton Cash” came to mind… Need I say more?

  10. I didn’t hear anything new from Cohen that had not already been disclosed numerous times in the media. Roger Stone has said several times that he did not speak personally with Julian Assange, but rather with a third party. The third party seems to have only disclosed what had already been in the news about the Wikileaks release. That certainly wasn’t a bombshell.

    Michael Cohen and others Trump operatives are clearly not the first and only professional folks to skirt the law in loyalty to their employer. In fact many men are of the idea that to advance goals, one has to weave in and out of regulations and socially approved behaviors.
    It is Mr Trump’s mental/social dysfunction, rather than legal infractions, that many find troubling.

    1. “rather than legal infractions, that many find troubling.”

      That Trump beat the snot out of Hillary, in spite of the MSM carrying her dirty, toxic water, and she outspent him 3:1….

      It’s impressive she didn’t off herself….not that Bill would intervene

    2. Sam, you innocent naïf, you. Mueller found all of Stone’s communications with Assange and with Guccifer 2.0 on the warrant returns for the 12 GRU officers responsible for the Russian hack and leak operation. I know that you don’t know what that means, Sam, because Julian Assange did not tell you that in a press release, Sam, and even if Assange had told you that, Sam, you’d still be awaiting further instructions from your handlers at “The Nation” on what to say about Mueller’s terrabytes of voluminous, complicated evidence against Roger Stone.

  11. Just wondering when the investigation into Hillary and the corruption of the FBI and DoJ is going to begin. Shouldn’t that come before an investigation of Trump and his staff?

    1. Roger that, Rosemary, Bruce and Beh Beh, too. Pro tip, you need a new bogie woman, it is getting old.

  12. But Cohen alleged that Trump ordered using money from his charity for the purchase,

    You mean the bidder was a straw bidder financed by the foundation? You’re not being clear, Professor.

    Cohen has found a home. In that, the Democrats appear to be following the approach of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, when asked about his opposition to dictators around the world but his tolerance of Nicaragua’s ruthless Anastasio Somoza, replied, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

    Dumb analogy. Anastasio Somoza Garcia was a Latin American caudillo. Among that set, he wasn’t known to be a peculiarly cruel or abusive character. What was odd about the Somoza regime was it’s durability. Usually caudillos would come and go in a few years. The Somozas assembled a patrimonial regime of family members and family retainers who ruled Nicaragua for four decades. They were distinguished by their cupidity, not by their brutality. It was not until you had an active insurgency in Nicaragua that you began to see bloodshed, and all of that was after 1974. Somoza Sr. took power in 1936. Throughout the regime’s history, you had an active and organized array of opposition newspapers and political parties. NB, in Latin America ca. 1957, durable constitutional government was atypical. Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica were the only countries wherein political life were typically conducted along those lines. .

    1. From Wikipedia article on Augusto Cesar Sandino:

      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.

        1. Sandino rebelled against the constitutional administration which preceded Somoza.

    2. Turley is claiming a straw bidder and then ” then put the portrait in one of his properties. That would be illegal.”

      If the portrait was loaned to one of his properties is that illegal? A lot depends on the paper work. What would be the criminal act? Tax evasion? But if the ownership remains in the foundation, then what?

      If this were Hillary Clinton would Professor Turley be making the same complaints. It seems the Clinton Foundation has been used for private use.

  13. Turley wrote, “Cohen admitted that he does not have evidence of collusion and offered nothing that helped substantiate it.”

    That’s true enough if you are looking for Cohen to provide material facts to warrant a charge of conspiracy with Russia against Trump. However, if you are looking for Cohen to testify about candidate Trump’s state of mind during his campaign for president in 2016, then Cohen provided insights into Trump’s motive and intent while Trump was running for president.

    Cohen said that Trump would do anything to win the election. And yet, Cohen also said that Trump never expected to win the election. One might otherwise suspect that Trump’s expectations for the election result may have changed from the time that he announced his candidacy through to the arrival of election day on Tuesday November 8th, 2016. Cohen could have been clearer on that question. Because the things that Trump might have been willing to do to win the 2016 election might also have changed over the course of Trump’s campaign for the presidency.

    Consider the Ukrainian Peace Plan, originally called the Weldon-Rovt Plan, that kept circulating amongst various members of the Trump campaign and Trump associates; including, especially Michael D. Cohen and Felix Sater, who just so happened to have been involved in negotiations for the Trump Tower Moscow deal. It’s the same Ukrainian Peace Plan that Manafort discussed with Konstantin Kilimnik. It’s the same plan that reportedly ended up on Michael Flynn’s desk or else in a waste paper basket somewhere. Many of the backers of that plan just so happened to have contributed to Trump’s inauguration fund and many also attended Trump’s inauguration. Curious. Intriguing.

    1. You’re too smart for your own good. No prosecutor could sell that to a jury. Dx of a Dx of a Dx.

      Sorry, too complicated. Dream on.

  14. Today is the day which Trump is supposed to resign and leave office. What time is it? said the Judge. Defendant: Five to ten.
    Judge: That is exactly what you get.

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