In a sign that the end of the Mueller investigation will not bring an end to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of President Trump and his family, the attorney for the former Trump Organization fixer Michael Cohen just urged that Donald Trump Jr. be indicted for signing a check that was meant to repay Cohen for the hush money he gave to Stormy Daniels to keep her from revealing her sexual liaison with Trump Sr. during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Lanny Davis — who is representing Cohen in his guilty plea to the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York for campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud — made the recommendation during an appearance on HILL.TV ‘s Rising With Krystal & Buck this morning.
“I do suggest, respectfully, that Donald Jr., based upon signing a hush money check for his father — out of a trust fund, by the way, that was set up to prevent any money being spent that would help Donald Trump while he was president — out of that trust fund is where the Donald Jr. check was written, that is a crime,” Davis said to Rising hosts Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti.
“He should be, in my opinion, respectfully, indicted, based upon just the signing of that check,” Davis said.
The check signed by the president’s eldest son is one of two $35,000 checks that Cohen offered as evidence to Congress in his public appearance before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February, one signed by Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Trump Jr., the other signed by the president himself.
While President Trump has continued to deny the alleged affair and claims that any contractual payments to the adult film star were meant merely to protect his family from scandal and did not violate any campaign finance laws, Davis presented the facts as the prosecutors at the SDNY have seen them.
“There’s no allegation or credibility issue here. Federal prosecutors found that Donald Trump directed and coordinated an illegal hush money scheme and the payment of $35,000 a month,” Davis said. “The payment of $35,000 a month was a payoff for what was a fictitious legal services retainer agreement, which the federal government prosecutors said never existed. So this is not a matter in dispute.”
“That check signed by our president is a fact that cannot be denied as a felony committed by the president of the United States, which, thanks to Michael Cohen and his testimony, is now before federal prosecutors,” he said.
“They can’t indict a president, but they can indict Don Jr. because the second check was signed by Don Jr., the same $35,000 a month installment payment for the hush money,” Davis said.
Of course, it’s wise to remember that the idea that a sitting president cannot be indicted is an internal Justice Department opinion with no actual basis in the text of the Constitution and has yet to be tested in the increasingly Trump-appointee-packed courts. Even if the principle is ever upheld by the Supreme Court, it would not prevent the indictment of a president once he leaves office.
With Cohen still cooperating both with Congressional committees investigating the administration and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the SDNY in hopes of earning a reduction in the three-year sentence that he’s set to begin serving in May, Davis also pointed out the severity of Cohen’s sentence compared to other people convicted of similar crimes.
“The most important issue for me is why Mr. Cohen is serving this length of time for what, is compared to others who have not paid income taxes, a minor sum of $275,000 a year, whereas Floyd Mayweather didn’t pay $18 million a year, and got a civil penalty,” he said, referring to the well=known boxer.
“So the disproportionaility of this sentence, I would respectfully suggest should be reconsidered, and he should be given credit for the criminal evidence that he put before the American people, using documents such as this check, as credit for this sentence,” Davis concluded.
If Cohen’s evidence does indeed wind up bringing down the Trump crime family, much of the country would be more than willing to support the idea of a sentence reduction for the president’s former personal attorney.
The prosecutors in the Southern District of New York certainly have their plates full at the moment with multiple investigations into the Trump Organization’s finances on allegations of tax and bank fraud, misuse of charitable funds, and who knows how many other crimes. Let’s hope that they aren’t interfered with in any way by Attorney General Barr and can complete their investigations and bring the appropriate indictments of the charged parties unhindered — even if the president’s children are among them.
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Original reporting by Julia Manchester at The Hill.