President Donald Trump could soon be in real legal jeopardy following court filings against his former lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump, called Individual-1 in the documents, is accused of directing Cohen to commit a campaign finance violation in order to pay off two women Trump had affairs with.
The Cohen case is not directly linked to any Russian involvement with the 2016 election, which is the subject Robert Mueller’s probe was set up to investigate. But like special counsel investigations before it, the Mueller probe has discovered more than was expected.
Trump’s decision to defend his actions with a a series of tweets has raised eyebrows even among conservative commentators. The President has claimed there was nothing illegal about the payments to his former mistresses. This is clearly false, and Michael Cohen is set to serve prison time for organizing those payments. The person who directed Cohen should also be liable for prosecution, according to experts.
Trump’s defenders will argue that Mueller has found no evidence of collusion. This is not the case: Mueller has not yet revealed his findings on the Russia connection. However, even without Russia, Trump is in a dangerous political position. History shows that investigations into president’s often discover things that damage administrations – even if those discoveries are unrelated to the original subject of inquiry.
When Independent Counsel Ken Starr investigated President Bill Clinton, he was supposed to look at the Whitewater land deal. In the course of an aggressive investigation, Starr discovered Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and the situation snowballed from there. Bill Clinton was not impeached because of the initial subject of Ken Starr’s investigation, but for charges pf perjury and obstruction of justice arising from it.
The run-off from the Mueller probe is much more serious. If Trump directed Cohen to commit crimes, and those crimes were designed to advance his bid for the presidency, it’s hard to see how he can avoid impeachment. Trump’s involvement in the hush payments may also be easier to prove than any collusion with Russia.
That’s not to say Russian collusion is going to disappear. Russian national Maria Butina is now co-operating with the authorities. Butina is accused of trying to infiltrate the NRA, which is itself accused of illegal co-ordination with the Trump campaign.