Friday was a significant day for the two federal probes relating to the Trump presidency – the SDNY and that of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
While the President was quick to tweet that…
Totally clears the President. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
…the relevance can hardly be distilled to a single sound byte.
Big picture – three things happened.
First, while saying that Michael Cohen deserves a substantial prison sentence, SDNY prosecutors also said the now-President directed him to make illegal payments.
Second, while Mueller’s team had a more favorable view of Cohen, it revealed that an unnamed Russian offered the Trump campaign “political synergy.”
And third, Mueller said Paul Manafort had lied about his contacts with someone connected to Russian intelligence as well as his dealings with the Trump administration after being indicted.
Among Trump critics, some see the beginning of the end.
But Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying,
“The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the President. It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”
“The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
So how imperiled is the Trump presidency?
It’s hard to say for these reasons:
First, the SDNY clearly believes the President and Cohen violated campaign laws, that Cohen was acting on the direction of trump, and specifically that in paying off a former porn star and Playboy model, 130k and 150k respectively, they hid and well exceeded the $2700 donation limit.
But where Justice Department policy is not to indict a sitting President, will that have any immediate consequence?
Specifically, should that revelation be deemed grounds for impeachment by the House of Representatives, will it lead to a conviction in the Senate?
Twenty years ago, when the underlying conduct was similarly about sex, the answer was no.
Harder to discern but perhaps more problematic for President Trump are the less salacious things we learned yesterday:
That in November of 2015, Cohen claims he was contacted by a Russian with ties to President Vladimir Putin who offered “synergy” to the Trump campaign.
Viewed alone or in connection with the revelation that Manafort lied about his own connection to someone in Russian intel, that could be connected to conspiracy, or the term many use – collusion.
And unlike a matter stemming from sex, arguably that would be viewed far more seriously by even a Republican-controlled Senate.