President Trump’s Legal Troubles: What Might Happen Next
Man: What he did was he worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign and to the candidate and the campaign.
Lanny: Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the Special Counsel and is more than happy to tell the Special Counsel all that he knows.
Martin: What a day yesterday for you. One of you mentioning Paul Manafort there. That was the Deputy U.S. Attorney for Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer if you will. And then the second voice you heard, his current attorney, Cohen’s, Lanny Davis saying that they’re ready to work with Mueller. We are joined by our legal analyst Paul Harding from Martin, Harding and Mazzotti. Hey, Paul. How are you?
Paul: Hey. Good morning, guys.
Martin: This stuff with Cohen and to a lesser degree Manafort, just chaos in Washington right now. Do you think the president is in trouble?
Paul: Well, if Cohen’s accounted the facts can be proven, it means that Trump himself is guilty of a federal crime. He is…didn’t name him by name as we heard so tactfully done, but I think we can put those pieces together and those facts add up pretty quickly.
Martin: So, it looks like a campaign perhaps violation where this $130,000 was given to Stormy Daniels and another $150,000 job to McDougal to keep the story quiet. Are these things…I know they’re felonies. Are they typically met with a fine or does this thing oftentimes lead to prison time?.
Paul: So, these campaign finance laws really depend on what we’re talking about here is really how much thing and we see these things that happened, we saw some things here locally where people were giving a little too much to candidates from shell companies and really wasn’t a jail term, but certainly media covered it and there was a plea. Here, big dollars, traditionally this would be something would be prosecuted and that jail time would be something that would be in the card. And here, of course, with the President, the question is, “Is he immune from prosecution?”
Kelly: Well, with the Manafort case, it’s mostly his own personal finance issues. But there are some questions coming up in the next week or so about his financial dealings in Russia which could come back to Trump. And then, of course, Michael Cohen’s case, indirectly yes directly was related to his payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. So, does this open the door then to pursuing anything against the President? And he could actually pardon both of these guys, but then that would open up maybe obstruction of justice.
Paul: Right. So, conventional wisdom here is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. I mean, it’s a separation of powers argument and the general theme is that it just hasn’t happened. But now people look at this and say, “Well, doesn’t mean that it could though.” The question is, “Does he have immunity?” If he were indicted, it would immediately, before any trial or anything went forward, would be decided by the Supreme Court. Which is why of course there’s always so much energy on these Supreme Court picks and who picks them.
Martin: Speaking to our legal analyst, Paul Harding. So, to just follow up on what Kelly said. Because these were federal charges for both Manafort and Cohen, the President could theoretically pardon both, correct?
Paul: He could.
Martin: And so there is a legal debate about whether a sitting president can be indicted. I was reading some scenarios that said it’s more likely that if Mueller uses these guys, gets information, decides to pursue things, the most likely thing would be that they wouldn’t indict. They would write a lengthy report and then hand it over to Congress who then could consider impeachment. Legally speaking, do you think that might be the more a likely scenario if they find wrongdoing?
Paul: Far more likely. Congress would then decide if impeachment proceedings would proceed to the House and ultimately then if the President were removed or if he were to withdraw from the presidency, then remember the prosecution would still be available to bring the claim. It doesn’t…the fact that after an impeachment doesn’t end this thing, if he leaves then they could decide to pursue these campaign finance laws against him. As a former sitting president, he wouldn’t enjoy that immunity.
Kelly: The whole Cohen, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal thing puts the President in an interesting position because if for some reason they decide to question him or depose him or something like that, he would have to say whether this was made to this woman and why and he would either have to A, admit there was a relationship or something there or B, he would have to admit that there was a campaign finance violation. So, he is in a no-win situation.
Paul: He is not gonna be sitting in front of Mueller unless he absolutely had no other way around it because he talks to reporters and they asked him just yesterday, “Do you know anything about these?” And he says, “No, I don’t. I don’t know anything about this.” “Did you fund this?” “No. I didn’t.” So talking to reporters is one thing, but when you talk to a federal prosecutor and you are sworn in, you say something that is less than the truth. Again, we’ve seen it time and time again, what gets these people, what hangs these people is lying to a federal prosecutor. So, I don’t see him doing that. I don’t see that he’s talked about wanting to sit down. I don’t think anyone is gonna put him in front of Manafort unless there’s absolutely no way around it.
Martin: In front of Mueller, they can’t. Is it an open legal question whether they can force him to talk to Mueller or do we even know that?
Paul: It is an absolute open legal question because we’re talking about these things that we just never talk about. So, this stuff is not…and can’t go to books and look up and say, “Oh, gee, what happened in 1961 when President X was…” This is all brand new stuff. So, yeah, the theme is Mueller thinks that he can get the President. The President is confident, his legal team that that’s never gonna happen. So, boy. We’ll wait and see.
Martin: Yeah. We are living in crazy times. Paul Harding, our legal analyst, Martin, Harding and Mazzotti, 1-800-LAW-1010. Paul, thanks a lot.