The Fat Lady may not be singing yet, but she is clearing her throat. If Michael Cohen is to be believed, Mr. Trump probably committed a raft of crimes when he directed Cohen to buy the silence of women with whom he had sexual liaisons in order to protect his 2016 Presidential bid. Since there is little doubt that Cohen made the payments on Trump’s behalf, the question of criminality revolves around intent.
The question of intent is not straightforward because Trump can argue that he had dual intent, meaning that when he directed Cohen to to make the payments he had more than just politics on his mind. Specifically Trump can argue that he wanted to spare himself and his wife embarrassment. The legal question then becomes this: Would Trump have made the payments had he not been a candidate in a political contest? Arguably, if it turns out that Trump has a (pre-politics) history of buying women’s silence, his legal position may be strengthened.
But his political position is another story. Somewhere along the line it is going to occur to Republicans that they would be better off with Mike Pence in the White House. Similarly, it is eventually going to dawn on Democrats that they are better off with a wounded Trump than a scandal free Pence. But the base of the Democratic Party wants blood, and if they re-capture the House in the midterms, they are likely going to impeach Trump. However, absent new and substantive information, the chance of a Senate conviction is vanishingly small. Trump could emerge from impeachment and acquittal more politically powerful. Clinton redux.
Leaving aside the histrionics of the base, the Democrats really have to think long and hard about whether they want to impeach a President for process crimes. Suppose proof were to emerge that Trump ordered the payments solely because of political considerations. That’s easy enough to believe since he appears to be beyond embarrassment about anything. Even so, that type of process crime is pretty thin gruel for overturning a Presidential election. Students of the game will recall that is the essence of the Clinton argument during his impeachment trial.
During the Clinton impeachment saga the Republican chorus insisted that Clinton lied under oath and as a result, ought to be removed from office in order to protect the integrity of the justice system. And right on cue, the Democratic chorus responded that it was “only about sex” so it didn’t matter. That was about the time that Gloria Steinem invented the “one free grope rule” which has now been modified and adopted by Evangelicals. So at this stage of the game it’s safe to say that the difference between now and then is that the teams have switched Jerseys.
But the main substantive issue still remains on the table. Did candidate Donald Trump somehow collude, cooperate or coordinate with foreign powers, especially Russia, for the purpose of influencing the election in his favor? That remains a serious question and it should be answered. The best way to do that is for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to continue. Once Mueller has wrapped it up he will send a report to Congress at which time the facts be available for all to see.
Then Congress can do its job. For a change.