10 Things I Hate About What’s Just Happened

We stand face to face with the idea that the president committed a felony

After “the information” regarding Michael Cohen’s guilty pleas stated flatly that Cohen had been directed to violate campaign finance law by Donald Trump, you can put the Russia probe aside for a moment and consider the many possible meanings of what Cohen has done:

  1. He has pled guilty to a felony. He says Trump did it with him. If he is telling the truth, Trump committed a felonious act before he was president. So if Trump is guilty of a felony, why isn’t he being indicted?
  2. Justice Department guidelines say an indictment of a sitting president would impair the executive functions of the presidency and the performance of his constitutionally assigned tasks. These guidelines were first issued under a Republican president (Nixon) and reaffirmed under a Democratic president (Clinton), so they have bipartisan street cred. That said, they are guidelines. They are not law. A complex Constitutional theory has it that, since the executive branch has a unique structure in that the exercise of its powers flow through the president personally as the sole official elected by all the people, it makes no sense that the president could in essence indict himself. Any person who would indict himself would presumably resign his office before doing so. Still, this entire discussion is predicated on the assumption that the president committed a felony.
  3. The question then goes to whether a campaign-finance violation is sufficient grounds to remove someone from the presidency—either through a rejection of the Justice Department guidelines that sees him being indicted or through an impeachment proceeding followed by a Senate vote to kick him out. That’s a good question. But any way you look at the question, you’re still looking this fact in the face: The president committed a felony.
  4. Those who defend him on the grounds that he shouldn’t be removed from office for this offense, as it does not rise to the level, must still acknowledge that the president committed a felony.
  5. There will be those—Trump is already one of them—who will say that Barack Obama’s campaign was found guilty of campaign finance violations and only had to pay a significant fine. But that’s a different kind of case, because nobody says Obama himself ordered such violations. Once again, though, we stand face to face with the idea that the president committed a felony.
  6. Trump is also fond of saying, in other contexts, that everybody does these kinds of things, we should all grow up and look reality in the face.”Everybody does it” is fine as a debating point, perhaps, but it doesn’t address how you handle an open discussion of wrongdoing. In truth, only three times in the modern era has the American polis had to face the possibility that the sitting president committed a felony.
  7. Once the president resigned rather than face impeachment. Once the president beat the charge. Trump is the third president about whom we have to have a continuing conversation that seems to accept the contention he committed a felony.
  8. It is very bad for people to commit felonies. Donald Trump does not seem to believe this, perhaps understandably. He is on Twitter today actively defending his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort—based largely on the fact that Manafort didn’t “break,” unlike Michael Cohen. Manafort has just been found guilty by a jury of his peers of committing eight felonies.
  9. Unless it can be proved somehow that he did not tell Cohen to violate campaign-finance law, Trump is clearly going to force Republican politicians and Republican supporters to make a choice: Him personally or the rule of law and the principle that no president is above the law. He will threaten them with the anger of his base if they decide they cannot countenance a president who committed a felony.
  10. It’s not going to be pretty.
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10 Things I Hate About What’s Just Happened

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