If you’ve been watching television recently, you’ve probably heard the bad news: The Trump administration is over. Toast. Cooked. Done for good, along with it any hope of the middle class revolution 63 million Americans voted for two years ago. The reason for this tragedy is simple: The president has been caught committing felonies. Legal experts without law degrees have had a lot to say on TV.
“If precedent means anything in the Trump era, Donald Trump will be — must be — impeached because of the crimes prosecutors say he committed in the Michael Cohen case,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said. “Both parties need to get on board to pass articles of impeachment,” said Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s former 2016 campaign manager.
“You have conspiracy. You have obstruction. You have campaign finance,” said Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude on MSNBC. “You have emoluments … If the Democrats do not pursue this vigorously, they will be, in some ways, held accountable for abdicating their responsibility … It goes to the moral question, the ethical question. Democracy is at stake!” And U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif. said, “This criminal must be brought up by the Congress of the United States for impeachment.” There’s a lot of emotion there. But to sum up, we’re staring down the barrel of a constitutional crisis. And that crisis stems from what MSNBC describes as “the crimes prosecutors say the president committed in the Michael Cohen case.”
And which crimes were those? The relevant details were spelled out in a piece that ran over the weekend in the New York Times, under this headline: “Prosecutors say Trump directed illegal payments during campaign.” The gist is this: Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has told federal investigators that he facilitated payments to two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. And then…. well, actually that’s it. That’s the entire story right there. Paying these two women, say federal prosecutors and their flacks at NBC, was a serious crime, a crime worthy of impeachment, if not indictment.
But, you might be wondering, how exactly is that criminal? We’ll explain that to you.
Let’s start by stipulating that everything Michael Cohen has told the feds is absolutely true. Assuming honesty isn’t usually a wise idea with Michael Cohen, but for the sake of argument, let’s do it in this case. Why is what Cohen is alleging a criminal offense?
Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed: Two women approach Donald Trump and threaten to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. That sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom. Now, more than two years later, Trump is a felon for doing this. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
Oh, but you’re not a federal prosecutor on a political mission. If you were a federal prosecutor on a political mission, you’d construe those extortion payments as campaign contributions. You’d do this even though the money in question didn’t come from, or go to, Trump’s presidential campaign.
Then you’d claim that Trump and Cohen violated campaign finance law because they didn’t publicly disclose those payments, despite the fact that disclosing them would nullify the reason for making them in the first place –which was to keep the whole thing secret. That is the argument you’d make, both in federal court and through your proxies on cable television. It is insultingly stupid. But because everyone in power hates the target of your investigation, nobody would question you. And that’s what’s happening right now.
By this reasoning, any money a political candidate spends to maintain or protect his image while running for office now qualifies as a regulated campaign donation and has to be disclosed. That would include, in addition to an infinite number of other things, buying toothpaste and getting a haircut. It would definitely include the taxpayer-financed slush fund Congress has set aside to pay off its own sexual harassment claims. Yes, those now qualify as campaign contributions. They must be publicly disclosed.
Except they’re not disclosed and never will be. Why is that? That might be a question for congressional leaders, including, Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Calif., the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a very powerful man in Congress. What does Mr. Schiff have to say about Congress not disclosing the very same payments that Democrats say Trump should be impeached for not disclosing?
“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time,” Schiff said on another cable news channel. So, to translate: Trump’s a criminal! He’s going to jail! For committing a smaller version of the same made-up crime that we in Congress have committed for years and forced you to pay for. By the way, we’re never apologizing for that, because we don’t have to and CNN isn’t going to make us. Screw you, America, and your stupid election. We’re in charge.
That’s the real message here.