President Donald Trump was up early Monday morning, tweeting falsely that investigators have found “No Smocking Gun” that proves he did anything wrong. He meant “smoking,” of course. His vision must be clouded by the haze.
In a sentencing memorandum for the president’s one-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors in Manhattan wrote Friday that Cohen violated campaign finance laws “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. In layman’s terms, Trump’s own Justice Department has accused him of instructing his attorney to commit two felonies.
These crimes, which Cohen confesses, involve six-figure payments of hush money to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels — women whose silence about alleged sexual encounters with Trump was expensively purchased in the weeks before the 2016 election.
On Twitter, the president called all of this “a simple private transaction.” I’m tempted to ask what he’s been “smocking.”
According to Cohen — and common sense — the purpose of paying $150,000 to McDougal (via American Media Inc. chairman David Pecker) and $130,000 to Daniels was to keep their accounts of their alleged relationships with Trump from being made public before the election. That means the payments have to be considered illegal, unreported campaign contributions.
Trump suggests these were mere technical violations of the kind that every campaign inadvertently commits and is fined for. That is a lie. Permit me to quote the prosecutors’ memo at length on this point:
“Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for president of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with [Trump]. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election. It is this type of harm that Congress sought to prevent when it imposed limits on individual contributions to candidates.”
And Cohen committed these crimes, prosecutors say, on Trump’s orders. Trump has not credibly denied the allegation -- and, indeed, Cohen made a recording of at least one conversation in which he discussed the payments with Trump.
“NO COLLUSION,” Trump claimed once again in his Monday tweets. He has spent months trying to convince the nation of two false premises: that special counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” has found no evidence of a conspiracy between his campaign and the Russian government to tilt the 2016 election in his favor; and that any other alleged crimes that investigators might come across are somehow irrelevant.
Wrong on both counts.
There was, of course, the infamous Trump Tower meeting arranged so that Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman could receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from an emissary of the Kremlin. But investigators have also learned of more than a dozen additional contacts between the campaign and well-connected Russians.
A memo filed Friday by Mueller reveals a previously unknown approach by “a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation” and who offered the campaign “synergy on a government level.” The filing also states that Cohen helpfully provided “useful information regarding certain discrete Russia-related matters” that was obtained through “regular contact” with Trump Organization executives.
None of this is normal. I know people who have run both Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns, and not one reports ever experiencing or even hearing of such dealings with a foreign government, much less an adversarial power such as Russia. When Trump says this sort of thing is common practice, he is lying.
No, Mueller has not tipped his hand to reveal all the evidence he might have of a full-fledged plot between his campaign and Vladimir Putin’s government. But given how tight-lipped the Mueller team has been, it is ridiculous for anyone to assert with confidence that no such evidence exists.
We know that Mueller is looking into the Trump Organization’s business dealings with Russians who have close links to the Kremlin. We know he is looking into potential obstruction of justice by the president.
And now we know, for the first time, that prosecutors have directly implicated Trump in a federal crime. It may be a bit premature to start chanting, “Lock him up!” But stay tuned.
Reach Eugene Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.