Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses during a meeting with members of the National Border Patrol Council at Trump Tower, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Within mere minutes of each other, two separate federal courts took control of the news cycle and have determined what we’ll be talking about for the next few days at least.
While one court was delivering eight guilty verdicts on Paul Manafort, another was announcing a plea deal from Michael Cohen. One man is a former Trump campaign chair, the other a former Trump lawyer/fixer.
Manafort faced eighteen charges, ten of which ended in a mistrial. Eight, however, received a unanimous “Guilty” from the jury. The charges were mostly related to tax fraud, and nothing about his trial had anything to do with collusion with Russia. So, as far as the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling, there is no victory yet. The fact that over half of the charges ended in a mistrial, as well as the fact that this had nothing to do with Russia, is something Trump supporters are touting as a victory.
But, Manafort is still a scalp that the special counsel has claimed. The bigger, more important scalp, however, is Cohen.
In taking the plea, Cohen has admitted to tax fraud and campaign finance violations, the latter of which should cause a lot of concern for the Trump team. Among the admissions is that Cohen paid women to stay quiet in an effort to affect the 2016 election. The payments violated campaign finance law, and they are seen as a major problem for President Trump.
While this, too, has nothing to do with Russia, it has everything to do with effectively tampering with the 2016 election.
Violations like this are not to be taken lightly. Payments like these are what took down John Edwards in 2008. Payments to a mistress who became pregnant were treated in much the same way. Edwards dropped out of the race when the news broke and he faced legal repercussions as a result of the campaign finance issue.
All of this leads to the worst case scenario for Team Trump: the question of impeachment.
Many now feel that Cohen’s admission is sufficient grounds to call for it, and it is likely that you’ll see stronger pushes for it. That will cause two things to happen.
The first is that Democrats will feel emboldened to file articles of impeachment and take them more seriously as a political party. Democrats can focus a little more on this issue in Congress and use it to try and take control of the narrative.
With that comes the second effect: Voter motivation. With a chance to actually win the House, Democratic voters will have an even greater sense of motivation in November.
From what I’ve been hearing, the idea of actual impeachment proceedings is something being discussed seriously in progressive and conservative circles. It feels real. It may ultimately not be, but as of this moment, it sure seems like people think it’s possible. That’s not good for Trump, who has so far been thriving on liberals losing their mind with rabid fantasies of taking him down.
This is more substantive, and that means his political opponents are more focused. Now there is a specific charge to focus all their attention on, and that will make them more dangerous to him.
Keep in mind, though, that even if the House votes to impeach, it’s almost impossible to see the Senate actually convicting him. But, that’s just more ammo for the Democrats and their voters, who will take it and run with it in ads for 2020 and beyond.
It’s all worst case scenario, though. We don’t actually know how this plays out yet. My gut feeling is that someone will try very early in the next Congress to get the articles of impeachment in, and Democrats will push hard for it.
And, whoever the Democratic leader of the House is at that point, they will likely be the House Speaker, and they will almost certainly let it play out. Up until now, that scenario seemed guaranteed to ensure Trump’s re-election victory in 2020 because it would’ve looked like a foolish bid to try and vote for impeachment. Now, though, Michael Cohen has made it substantially less foolish.
Now the foolishness is on Republicans who don’t take Cohen’s admissions, and their implications, seriously. From an electoral standpoint, they now have to make tougher decisions and fight much, much harder to keep their jobs.