As if the 2018 midterm elections couldn’t become more meaningful and a higher priority for both parties, the plea deal announced yesterday between former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and federal prosecutors could create chaos come November. At issues is whether an admission from Cohen that he paid women in exchange for their silence, at the request of Donald Trump, will lead to charges against the President. In the grand scheme of things, there may be no crime committed in that depending on how it was technically carried out, but it doesn’t remove the political liability or the liability of impeachment if Democrats take control of the House.
As Politico reports this morning, impeachment fears are now running rampant and even some Trump loyalists are concerned what Democrats may eventually try to do with Cohen’s guilty plea:
“The verdict in the Manafort trial isn’t nearly as worrisome to me as the Cohen agreement and the Cohen statement,” said former Trump adviser Michael Caputo. “It’s probably the worst thing so far in this whole investigation stage of the presidency.”
One Republican lawyer close to the White House worried that Cohen – with his unique access to Trump’s history of business dealings and scandalous personal entanglements – could ultimately prove more damaging to Trump, and give Democrats fodder for impeachment if they take the House in November. “It’s the only excuse they’ll need,” the lawyer said. “And believe me, they won’t need much of an excuse.”
Remember, impeachment is a political process, and the majority in the House gets to decide what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” in most cases. If Democrats decide that Cohen’s guilty plea that he paid money in exchange for silence on behalf of Candidate Donald Trump, they could make that case and push forward with an impeachment vote. The Senate, assuming it’s controlled by Republicans, would never go along with it, so the prospect that Trump would be removed from office is still likely zero.
That’s the worst case scenario for the President, but it’s still not the likely scenario. A seperate story today from CNBC tosses cold water on the impeachment talk and provides some perspective on how hard the process really is, especially without a serious and provable crime:
With Cohen facing up to five years in prison, questions are being raised as to whether Trump could also be prosecuted. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said Tuesday after the proceedings, “If those payments (of hush money) were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
There are three impeachable offenses: treason, bribery and the more opaque “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but the House of Representatives has the responsibility to accuse the president of one of those things. If a majority in the House agrees, a president is then impeached. The Senate then votes on impeachment, which under the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds majority.
In Trump’s case, starting the impeachment process would require a mass revolt by Republicans against him in the GOP-controlled House, an event even less likely than normal with midterm elections coming in November.
Even Democrats are mostly keeping quiet about impeachment to avoid motivating the Republican base before the elections. Public opinion polls have also shown a general unease among the American public when asked if they would like to see Trump impeached should the Democrats win control of the House.
Richard Johnson, a professor in U.S. politics at Lancaster University, also remarked that he would “urge caution to those who think impeachment is around the corner.”
“Impeachment is a political process. The jury is 100 U.S. senators, whose overwhelming concern is re-election and, even more pertinently for some, re-nomination. Two-thirds of them must vote to convict. We’re in a new partisan landscape from the 1970s. Even if Democrats take control of the House, will there be around 17 Republican senators willing to vote with around 50 Democrats to convict a Republican president? I doubt it,” he said in a research note.
Democratic Congressional candidates are being tempered on this subject because the last thing they want is a backlash of Trump voters coming out to back their President against a possible impeachment. In fact, it may be in Trump’s best interests to stir up these fears as a way to motivate his supporters, but political reality still cuts against the likelihood that the process would remove him from office, even if Democrats attempt it.
The Washington Post generally agrees and says the Cohen plea will likely not lead to charges against President Trump, but it may increase calls for impeachment, perhaps even from Democrats:
In comments to reporters after Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts in federal court in Manhattan, Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said prosecutors were sending a message that they are unafraid to file charges when campaign finance laws are broken. But he did not mention Trump or offer any indication that his office planned to pursue action against the president.
Likewise, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III 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.
That would leave impeachment as the more likely avenue for holding Trump accountable for his alleged role in campaign finance violations in 2016, 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.
Just another day in Washington, DC, in 2018. We will be watching closely to see how the White House reacts and moves forward from here. Will Democrats change their tune and begin talking about impeachment on the campaign trail? I’m still doubtful they’d want to poke that hornet’s nest since it could backfire. On the other hand, the President needs supporters to be motivated, so he may not be too concerned even if Democrats do start promising to bring impeachment proceedings if they win the House.