On Tuesday, President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a slew of different felonies in Federal court. According to different outlets, this is potentially a big deal for the President. The President is having a harder time defending himself. Despite all of this, it’s still business as usual in Washington.
The news is big, but not for the reasons most outlets are saying.
I found out about it from a gloating Rachel Maddow, who was beside herself with all the trouble the Republican President was in. To be fair, Cohen’s plea implicates the President in some illegal activities. That said, Cohen never mentioned Trump by name. This is a big deal.
The thing is, if Cohen had mentioned the President by name, he’d have given up his value to the Mueller investigation. Mueller wouldn’t need to strike a deal with Cohen for testimony because his statements would have been in court proceedings. Thinking of a case like connect-the-dots, Cohen completed most of the work except for drawing one last line. Prosecutors still need him to take that last step.
What Cohen did was announce to Mueller and Trump that the stakes of the game just got higher. He provided enough public evidence to show that he can put Trump in prison (after Trump leaves office, willingly or unwillingly). And he painted himself into a tight corner; there isn’t much wiggle room for him to maneuver if he’s asked on the stand what he meant during his plea hearing.
He’s forcing Trump to intervene with a pardon on his behalf.
The only clear way to prevent Cohen from testifying is if he can’t be threatened with any sort of jail time. Cohen has gotten as close as he can to naming Trump without actually doing it. If he wanted to make a sweetheart deal with prosecutors, it would have been done by now. Nothing that direct would have been said in court. Prosecutors prefer ambushing defendants to letting them know what’s coming.
But wait. Didn’t he do enough to mention Trump?
I get that this might seem a little odd to people. After all, in his agreement, he mentioned working at the behest of someone who is now President. That seems unambiguous, right? It could factually only mean one person. That should be enough.
Here’s where the law can get maddening for people. It’s not enough to mention everything about Trump without actually saying the name. Cohen has to be on the stand in order to say who he was talking about. If he’s not there, defense counsel could argue all sorts of reasons to throw his testimony out. In short, Cohen is still in a position where if he remains quiet, the President will still be okay.
The real takeaway.
Despite everything going on, at the end of the day proving a case against someone powerful is hard to do. If anything, the Cohen plea deal and the other scandals around Trump highlight this issue. And really, it’s not just Trump that’s a problem. Any people with actual political power are difficult to deal with if they abuse their campaigns and office.
But that’s not news. People like the illusion that they’re in control, that there’s something they can do right now to right a wrong. To that end, the reporting on this has been superb in helping keep that illusion going.
Part of me is becoming quite fearful of what happens when that illusion can’t be maintained anymore.