The Washington Post writes on Wednesday that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen's claim that he broke campaign finance laws at the direction of then-candidate Trump may spark calls to impeach, however even if true it "probably will not have any legal consequences for the president while he is in office," according to legal analysts.
The 51-year-old Cohen, Trump's lawyer for a decade, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance violations and other charges, including bank fraud totaling "well over $20 million." The alleged campaign finance violations in connection with paying hush money to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump, however, are at the heart of what many think could be the start of impeachment talks (since that whole Russia thing hasn't panned out so far). But even if campaign finance laws were broken, WaPo says it may not matter:
Such an explosive assertion against anyone but the president would suggest that a criminal case could be in the offing, but under long-standing legal interpretations by the Justice Department, the president cannot be charged with a crime.
The department produced legal analyses in 1973 and 2000 concluding that the Constitution does not allow for the criminal indictment of a sitting president. -WaPo
Supporting this notion, special counsel Robert Mueller admitted in May that he will follow DOJ guidance and not indict President Trump as part of the Russia investigation.
"All they get to do is write a report," said Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani, himself a former federal prosecutor and mayor of New York City, also told Fox that Mueller's investigators have not responded to five information requests from the president's team. That has forced Trump's legal team to push off making a decision about whether the president will sit for an interview with the special counsel -- a decision they had hoped to reach by Thursday. -Fox News
And as far as campaign finance violations go, the Post notes that "[Mueller] determined months ago that allegations of campaign finance violations involving payments to women before the presidential election were outside the scope of his mandate to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s operation to influence the vote."
Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also admitted in May that Trump can't be indicted:
"The Department of Justice has in the past, when the issue arose, has opined that a sitting President cannot be indicted," Rosenstein said. "There's been a lot of speculation in the media about this, I just don't have anything more to say about it."
In a series of memorandums, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that indicting a sitting president would violate the Constitution by undermining his ability to do his job. Those memos, too, though, said the answer was a matter of structure and inference.
The Justice Department’s regulations require Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, to follow the department’s “rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies.” If the memos bind Mr. Mueller, it would seem he could not indict Mr. Trump, no matter what he uncovered.-NYT
If charges can't be brought against Trump, that leaves impeachment as the only recourse to remove Trump from office over paying two women to keep quiet about alleged extramarital affairs - which the Post calls "an unlikely outcome while Republicans hold Congress but a potential agenda item for Democrats should they take control of the House after the midterm elections."
Democrats have been split on whether calling for Trump’s impeachment is politically astute before November. But Cohen’s plea could revise that calculation and pressure Democrats to promise to launch hearings should they win the House, which has the constitutional authority to initiate impeachment proceedings.
This is a very big deal. The president of the United States has been directly implicated in federal crimes, and implicated not by some enemy but by his own personal lawyer, said Neal Katyal, a US solicitor general in the Obama administration who is now a white-collar criminal defense attorney.
That said, Obama settled one of the largest fines related to campaign finance violations ever handed down. On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted: "Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!"
Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
And in 2013, Politico noted:
President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign reporting violations — one of the largest fees ever levied against a presidential campaign
Did You Know:— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) August 21, 2018
Barack Obama took nearly $2 Million in illegal campaign donations in 2008
He was fined one of the largest fees for campaign finance violations ever levied against a presidential campaign
And no one went to jail or even discussed impeachment
Now if Cohen has evidence of a "conspiracy to collude" with Russia, as his attorney Lanny Davis just announced, it could be a game changer.
Then again, if Cohen had evidence of collusion with Russia, would Mueller have referred his "smoking gun" defendant to the Southern District of New York?