Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on eight federal counts on Tuesday and accused the president of conspiring with him to violate campaign finance laws to buy the silence of two women who said they were Trump’s mistresses.
According to Cohen, Trump authorized him to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, as part of non-disclosure agreements intended to benefit the Trump campaign. Cohen says Trump later paid him back.
Establishment media and social media exploded with talk of impeachment and many Trump defenders wondering how campaign finance law could be broken when none of the funds came from the campaign.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy says both sides need to come to grips with reality, beginning with Trump defenders who insist there was no crime in the payments. He says it depends on why the money was spent.
“It’s the kind of thing you would expend campaign money on if somebody else didn’t pay it by other means. That’s why it’s an in-kind contribution,” he told Radio America in an interview.
“If you’re doing an expenditure, the purpose of which is designed in part to lighten the burden of the campaign, which would otherwise pay the same money, then it’s a campaign contribution. I really don’t get the argument that it’s not,” said McCarthy.
What does strike McCarthy as unusual is prosecutors lodging a felony charge over the payments. He says campaigns often make mistakes and usually the problems get resolved without litigation. He says the Obama campaign is a well-known example.
“The one we typically talk about is the 2008 Obama campaign, which had about $2 million worth of illegal contributions, which obviously dwarf the amount of money that we’re talking about in connection with these hush money agreements. Yet, that was settled with a $375,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also has some bad news for liberals getting their pitchforks and impeachment campaigns ready.
“What we’re talking about here is not really the crime of the century, even if they could prove it against President Trump, which I think they probably couldn’t,” said McCarthy.
He says something like this might get thrown into the mix if far more serious issues arise, but is a non-starter for impeachment on its own.
“As a standalone matter, no one’s getting impeached over a campaign finance violation. At least they shouldn’t,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy offers that last caveat because the House of Representatives can impeach a president for whatever they believe is appropriate and the same goes for a Senate conviction.
McCarthy is also skeptical of suggestions from Cohen attorney Lanny Davis that Cohen has proof of Trump collaborating with Russia to hack Democratic National Committee emails.
“(Special Counsel Robert Mueller) transferred this case to the Southern District of New York. It’s very hard for me to believe that Mueller, who has a lot more information than anyone else does about what proof he has of collusion – if he thought that Cohen was helpful to that case, I don’t see him letting that case walk to the Southern District of New York,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says Trump’s biggest problem in the weeks ahead may be himself. He says Trump’s consistent haranguing of Mueller and his team on Twitter and in public statements is only making the special counsel more determined to hammer him.
“If I were the prosecutor and my honor was being attacked every single day, I would be motivated when my time finally came to file a report, to write the report to end all reports.
“I’m not saying that you make up information. But there’s a way of writing things when you want to soft sell them and there’s a way of writing things when you want to be very aggressive,” said McCarthy.
That said, McCarthy believes it’s clear that the collusion investigation is sputtering out, and he does not expect former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to reinvigorate the probe even if he were to cooperate with Mueller.
McCarthy says anything of value from Manafort would already be known by prosecutors through Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who became the government’s chief witness against Trump’s one-time campaign manager.
“Think about what Mueller’s done in the six months since Mueller became a cooperator. He’s filed two indictments against groups of Russians, which don’t come close to hinting that there’s any complicity by the Trump campaign with Russia’s perfidy in connection with the election,” said McCarthy, who thinks Mueller went after Manafort solely over crimes committed long before there was ever an affiliation with Trump.
“I think he’s interested in Manafort for Manafort. I don’t think he’s interested in Manafort to try to make a case against Trump because I don’t think he thinks there is one on collusion. Obstruction’s a different story, but I just don’t see this collusion with Russia thing happening,” said McCarthy.