Cohen's Guilty Plea, What it Means, and What it Doesn't Mean

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Yesterday, Paul Manafort was found guilty on 8 of 18 counts involving false tax returns. That was all but meaningless in the grander narrative being woven. The crimes all predated the campaign and had nothing to do with Russia, collusion, nor Donald Trump.


The real story was Michael Cohen’s guilty plea.

No, not because any of the major crimes he plead to have anything to do with President Trump, Russia, nor collusion. It was because of two counts dealing with campaign finance violations. Mr. Cohen claims that he made payments to two women (almost certainly Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal) under the order of Trump with the distinct and sole purpose to “influence the 2016 election.”

Of course, that’s not what Michael Cohen said just a few months ago.

“People are mistaking this for a thing about the campaign. What I did defensively for my personal client, and my friend, is what attorneys do for their high-profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I truly care about him and the family — more than just as an employee and an attorney.”

Cohen has now changed his story, again, in order to directly implicate Trump. That’s not a coincidence given that he was facing 65 years in prison for completely unrelated crimes.

Whether you believe Cohen was lying then or whether you think he’s lying now, his contradictory statements ensure he will have no credibly for the claims he’s made. If any evidence existed of Trump masterminding the payment and specifying it was protect his electoral prospects, we’d know about it by now and Mueller would of never handed this case off.

As it stands, the only tape that Cohen has with Trump’s voice on it has already been heard and oddly enough, it actually helps Trump. In it, Michael Cohen initiates a conversation with then candidate Trump. He asks to make a payment for a story involving the alleged Karen McDougal affair. Trump appears clueless as to why he’s making a payment at first and questions even making it. Cohen insists it needs to be done and Trump then tells him to go ahead.


Why is this important? Because intent is the golden standard with campaign finance laws. It doesn’t appear Trump was the initiator of the payments as a remedy but simply following his lawyer’s advice on how to handle the situation. That’s even more important when discussing intent to violate the laws in play. If you’ll notice yesterday, the attorney for the SDNY made a statement implicating the fact that Cohen was a lawyer and should of known better.

This is exactly right. Cohen, being a lawyer, is held to a higher standard of intent because he should theoretically know the law. When a lawyer tells a client to do something, it’s almost impossible to make the case that the lawyer was just an innocent pawn in the dastardly scheme of his client. The entire reason for the existence of a lawyer is to tell the client “no, you can’t do that.” Unless Cohen can prove he did warn the President, his words are going to fall to the floor in a legal sense.

That leads us to the next aspect of this. Just because Cohen has plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations does not mean they were actually violations (we’ll get to that angle shortly). This is where the 65 years on the other counts comes into play. How does someone facing that kind of jail time end up pleading out for only 3-5 years? By telling prosecutors what they want to hear. Cohen did just that with his statements on Trump’s supposed intent while he and the prosecutors know they won’t have to actually prove it.


Also in question is just how concerned Lanny Davis (Cohen’s lawyer) was about his client’s welfare here. Lanny Davis is a notorious Hillary Clinton booster and fixer. He had his client plead guilty here to two counts that aren’t even likely crimes. Let’s talk about that.

In regards to the two “violations” of campaign finance law that Cohen plead to, it’s complicated. To start, pleading guilty is not adjudication, as mentioned above. Cohen can plead guilty to breathing. It doesn’t mean what he plead to was actually proven to be criminal in a court. There’s no trial here, no precedent being set, and that’s likely why the SDNY was willing to give Cohen such a sweetheart deal. Not because Cohen is going to “sing” (there’s no cooperation in this plea) but because they did not want to actually have to prove the “violations” in open court as it would likely invalidate them. Better to let Cohen off on 65 years of prison as long as he’ll say what they want him to say while not actually having to prove their case.

Not having to prove it is the real matter at hand. These violations don’t actually appear to be violations.

Listen to former FEC Chairman Bradly Smith explain (scroll the second video to hear him). To note, Mr. Smith was a Clinton appointee and is not a Trump partisan. The basic premise here is that because the incidents involved in these NDAs predate the campaign and have logical ramifications outside of just the election (i.e. business, marriage, etc.), they can not be campaign finance violations. This is the John Edwards defense, who was acquitted (along with the jury hanging on other counts) after being charged with using campaign money to pay off his mistress in 2008. He said his reason was not just the election but to protect his wife. Trump will have the same defense here. He’ll also have claims of protecting business interests.


In the end, there’s absolutely no way that Cohen’s claim will stand up to scrutiny because 1) he said the opposite just three months ago 2) because there’s ample proof that Trump was simply taking his lawyer’s advice and 3) because Trump will have ample logic to claim multiple purposes for the payments.

What that leaves us with is purely a political issue.

The media are going to lose their minds until the mid-terms over this. It’s unavoidable and not much of a change from what they were doing. If you are looking for CNN or MSNBC to offer circumspect analysis, you are looking in the wrong place. Their cries will likely have no real political effect.

The real political issue will be how Republican and Trump-sympathetic voters see this entire ordeal. For example, Barack Obama committed over $2,000,000 in campaign finance violations and was allowed to just pay a fine. MSNBC Contributor and Democratic apparatchik Al Sharpton had $4,500,000 in back taxes not paid. He was never charged. Barack Obama’s own Treasury secretary filed false tax returns. He was not charged and allowed to amend.

Historically, campaign finance violations are simply not charged in criminal court (unless you are Dinesh D’souza and are being targeted for making an anti-Obama movie). You pay the fine and you move on. How does one suspect Republicans and some independents are going to view the double standard that is so glaring here? That’s not hard to figure out.

This leads to more division, more distrust, and likely higher Republican turnout in November. Trump is not going to go quietly into the night. That’s just not his style. He is going to use this to claim there are two standards of justice and to pit himself against the machinations of Washington. Is he wrong? Not really, even though I’ve got no problem denouncing the fact that he had the affairs in the first place over a decade ago.


I suspect that the media, Democrats, and their other cohorts are about to overplay their hand again. The idea that a President would be impeached over an un-adjudicated campaign finance violation that probably isn’t even a violation is just stupid. It’s a-historical and contrary to the precedent set by Barack Obama’s own DOJ in dealing with violations of Democratic Presidents. Is Trump clean here? No, his immoral behavior rightly came back to haunt him and he deserves blame for that. Manafort and Cohen are certainly not clean for all their unrelated crimes either. Still, none of this means he should be impeached and none of it is even especially relevant to his tenure as President.

When, not if, Democrats and the media make impeachment the main push for the November mid-terms, it’s going to backfire and it’s mainly their own fault. Had they not pushed the ridiculous Russian collusion angle so profusely and hysterically, the waters wouldn’t be so muddy today and they might retain some credibility to play up these supposed violations. Instead, their push is going to look like pure political opportunism in which they are jumping from issue to issue, regardless of merit, to remove the President.

I know some are saying this is the end of the world. I don’t think it is. Like the other umpteen things that were supposedly going to take Trump down, this won’t do the tri



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