STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Michael Cohen's history with Donald Trump

CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger examines the relationship between President Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Posted: Dec 17, 2018 1:31 PM
Updated: Dec 17, 2018 2:03 PM

Last week the nation witnessed a courtroom spectacle that included the president's former personal lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, groveling for mercy at a sentencing hearing while his daughter watched, a crutch at her side. Future historians might view the maudlin scene as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

The circumstances surrounding Cohen's guilty pleas suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller and Southern District of New York federal prosecutors believe Cohen and Trump broke the law in paying hush money to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels. The clear purpose was to protect the president's reputation as a political candidate.

It is even possible that the president already has been indicted by a federal grand jury in a secret, sealed indictment that will be revealed only when he leaves the presidency. Of course, this is necessarily speculative, as prosecutors seal indictments to keep them secret.

Prosecutors generally use sealed indictments in three situations. The first is when they fear a suspect, upon hearing of his indictment, might destroy evidence before his arrest. The second is when they fear the suspect might flee. Neither of those applies to Trump. Even though he has the use of two well-equipped planes (Air Force One & Trump Force One), he is unlikely to flee the US and has no place to hide. But the third reason could be a factor: when the statute of limitations might expire before the suspect can be arraigned on the indictment.

Mueller and the New York Southern District prosecutors are bound by a Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.

Even if the president does not run for reelection, the five-year statute of limitations might expire on presidential criminal activities that reach back to 2015 by the time he leaves office. That could include planning the "catch and kill' operation used on McDougal. These timing details are known only by prosecutors and those under investigation.

The issuance and sealing of the indictment would "toll" the statute from expiring. The issuance of the indictment stops the clock, and the sealing may prevent evidence destruction or witness tampering until the case can be tried. A viable prosecution would be possible even if circumstances such as the president's reelection in 2020 prevent a prosecution until 2025.

It is also possible that a new Trump-designated attorney general could shut down Mueller's investigation. The safe Mueller/Southern District of New York move is to indict Trump now and seal the indictment pending the president's departure from office.

The details of Cohen's guilty pleas in August and November, as well as the sentencing proceedings last week, show that Cohen and his highly reputable attorney, former federal prosecutor Guy Petrillo, know something important. They believe that prosecutors have the evidence to prove that Cohen committed a felony violation of US election laws in orchestrating the payments to McDougal and Clifford.

Federal Judge William Pauley could not have accepted the plea unless he too believed a federal felony was committed. This was no "simple private transaction," as the president asserted.

Trump is legally permitted to make unlimited campaign contributions on his own behalf. But these must be promptly reported under federal law. The government's sentencing recommendations in connection with Cohen's August plea reveal that the president was aware of the payments, probably even attending a meeting with Cohen and David Pecker, chairman of AMI (the National Enquirer's corporate owner), to discuss silencing scandalous reports about potential candidate Trump. He clearly intended to hide rather than report the expenditures. This was not an oversight but the act of a co-conspirator in the commission of the felony.

It is logical that the government has negotiated a non-prosecution agreement with AMI and with Pecker himself ("Chairman1"), as the sentencing documents show him to be a key witness to corroborate Cohen. Cohen also has tapes of the president affirming his desire to pay off McDougal.

Later Trump Organization documents and Rudy Guiliani affirm that Cohen was reimbursed for the payments under the guise of legal fees. The evidence clearly demonstrates that Cohen used shell corporations and the Trump Organization to hide the president's role in the whole sordid matter.

This makes the president a criminal co-conspirator in the commission of a federal felony, and that's an impeachable offense. The case is strong, and the smart move by Mueller and New York federal prosecutors is to indict and seal, and then finish the Russia probe. Given Cohen's statements about the president's pre-election relationship with the Russians, that too looks increasingly problematic for Trump.

Finally, filing an indictment in New York would lock in a prosecutor's dream jurisdiction for trial. What better venue could a prosecutor have to try Trump than the Southern District in New York City, where the public is heavily Democratic and likely to view him as Public Enemy No. 1?

Huntsville
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 99°
Florence
Clear
92° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 101°
Fayetteville
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 90°
Decatur
Clear
91° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 100°
Scottsboro
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 102°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6030162
Mobile4418137
Montgomery4339109
Tuscaloosa254448
Madison19078
Marshall186611
Shelby150924
Lee149437
Morgan12205
Baldwin111410
Walker105127
Elmore98919
Dallas9639
Franklin92216
Etowah88214
DeKalb8416
Chambers65727
Russell6570
Autauga65313
Butler64328
Tallapoosa61669
Unassigned58626
Limestone5741
Houston5526
Cullman5395
Lauderdale5376
Lowndes48022
St. Clair4692
Colbert4656
Pike4595
Escambia4528
Calhoun4365
Coffee4074
Covington39911
Jackson3742
Bullock37010
Barbour3672
Dale3621
Talladega3497
Hale33722
Marengo33011
Wilcox2968
Clarke2946
Winston2893
Chilton2872
Sumter28512
Blount2731
Pickens2556
Monroe2492
Marion24514
Randolph2449
Conecuh2277
Perry2091
Bibb2081
Macon2069
Choctaw20212
Greene1928
Henry1433
Crenshaw1273
Washington1277
Lawrence1170
Cherokee1127
Geneva920
Lamar811
Fayette781
Clay742
Coosa621
Cleburne411
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 57591

Reported Deaths: 710
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby12842214
Davidson12549138
Rutherford332638
Hamilton308837
Sumner180256
Williamson159115
Trousdale15055
Knox14719
Out of TN125610
Wilson109917
Putnam9897
Bradley8894
Robertson88213
Sevier8633
Unassigned8372
Lake6970
Tipton6746
Montgomery6587
Bledsoe6251
Bedford5959
Macon5466
Hamblen4224
Maury4203
Hardeman3814
Fayette3463
Madison3402
Loudon3081
Rhea2940
Blount2803
Dyer2743
McMinn25718
Cheatham2522
Dickson2430
Washington2120
Lawrence2026
Cumberland1964
Anderson1782
Sullivan1782
Lauderdale1723
Gibson1581
Jefferson1571
Monroe1466
Smith1392
Coffee1340
Cocke1260
Greene1232
Hardin1207
Obion1182
Haywood1112
Warren1060
Franklin1043
Marshall1042
Wayne990
Hickman980
McNairy911
Marion904
Giles801
Lincoln800
White803
Hawkins792
Carter771
DeKalb760
Roane750
Weakley691
Overton681
Campbell651
Grundy652
Henderson620
Claiborne610
Unicoi560
Chester530
Carroll511
Polk510
Grainger500
Crockett483
Henry480
Cannon450
Johnson440
Sequatchie430
Jackson410
Humphreys382
Meigs350
Perry350
Morgan291
Decatur280
Stewart260
Fentress250
Scott220
Union200
Houston190
Clay180
Moore170
Benton151
Hancock100
Lewis100
Pickett70
Van Buren70

 

 

Community Events