Did Trump commit a crime? Congress must find out

Published on Friday, 24 August 2018 14:27
Written by Washington Post

Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance felonies he said Trump directed him to perpetrate, the president and his underlings had floated at least three different defenses. Each of them underscored why Congress should be demanding information and launching its own inquiry.

Trump tweeted that Cohen’s felony campaign finance violations “are not a crime,” even though Cohen faces prison time after admitting to them. The president expanded on his curious claim during a Fox News interview, portions of which were released Wednesday, by saying that Cohen’s hush-money payments “didn’t come out of the campaign.” Yet no one is claiming they did.

It was Cohen’s contribution of the hush money that constituted the criminal conduct. He admitted doing it to benefit Trump’s presidential campaign, by silencing two women who were preparing to speak out about their affairs with the then-candidate.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to questions about the Cohen fiasco by noting that “no charges have been filed against” the president. Of course they have not: It is against Justice Department policy to indict a sitting president, because it is not clear the Constitution allows it. It is Congress’ responsibility to hold the president accountable.

Finally, Trump implied that Cohen made up stories to get a deal from prosecutors. The president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani,said that Cohen’s “actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”

Trump is evidently calculating he can win a he-said, he-said fight between himself and another serial liar.

Yet, in court on Tuesday, prosecutors noted that they had evidence Cohen broke the law “in coordination with the campaign or candidate for the purposes of influencing the election,” including records such as hard-copy documents, text messages, electronic devices, tapes, phone logs and emails.

It is unclear whether these records implicate only Cohen, or Trump and others as well. It is not publicly known how much of this information Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, and to what extent Cohen might cooperate with his investigation. But if there is evidence of misconduct by the president, it must be disclosed to Congress and to the public. While it is not standard Justice Department practice to release more information than necessary to secure a guilty plea, lawmakers are the judges and juries when it comes to the president.

Whatever evidence prosecutors - or anyone else - has regarding a compelling accusation of substantial lawbreaking on the part of Trump is relevant to Congress’ constitutional responsibilities.

Congress also has the obligation to obtain this evidence, and gather its own. If congressional Republicans will not set aside partisan loyalties and start digging, voters will have reason to replace them in November.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Friday, 24 August 2018 14:27. Updated: Friday, 24 August 2018 14:30.