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Donald Trump’s crimes
August 21 was an historic day.
The longtime attorney for the President of the United States stood in a federal courtroom and said, under oath, that the president instructed him to commit two crimes.
The criminal activities described by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, were not trivial violations -- they were felonies. The criminal conduct continued even after Trump took office.
Critically, Trump’s involvement does not rest on Cohen’s word alone but is strongly supported by corroborating evidence.
No amount of spin, deflection or dissembling can explain away these basic facts.
Cohen says he conspired with Trump to silence two women who said they had affairs with the president: Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. A 22-page criminal information details how Trump and Cohen accomplished their objectives through brazen violations of federal election law.
Crime 1: The silencing of Karen McDougal
Karen McDougal, 1998’s Playmate of the Year, alleges she had an affair with Trump after they met at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006. According to the criminal information filed by the government, in June 2016, she contacted American Media, Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, and offered to sell her story.
The chairman of AMI, David Pecker, a friend of Trump, contacted Cohen and told him that McDougal was shopping the story. Cohen then asked Pecker to pay McDougal for the rights to her story “to suppress” it and “prevent it from influencing the election.” In open court, Cohen said that he did so “in coordination with and at the direction of” Donald Trump.
Cohen promised to reimburse Pecker at a later date.
On August 5, 2016, Pecker paid McDougal $150,000. That bought her silence.
That money was an illegal corporate campaign contribution. (Corporations are not allowed to contribute directly any money to assist a federal election campaign.) Cohen faces five years in jail for his role. Trump is his unindicted co-conspirator.
Corroborating evidence: The McDougal tape
You don’t have to take Cohen’s word that Trump was involved with the illegal payment to McDougal. Last month, Cohen released a tape, recorded in September 2016, in which he discusses purchasing the rights to McDougal’s story from Pecker.
Trump brings up the idea of paying Pecker in cash.
According to the criminal information, in late August 2016, a contract between AMI and Cohen was drawn up to formalize transfer. Cohen would pay $125,000 to a shell company set up by a consultant of AMI for the rights to McDougal’s story. But before Cohen paid, Pecker called up Cohen, told him the deal was off and instructed him to tear up the contract.
Cohen did not tear up the contract, and it was recovered when federal agents raided Cohen’s office this April.
Crime 2: The silencing of Stormy Daniels
Trump met another woman at the 2006 golf tournament in Tahoe -- adult film star Stormy Daniels. Like McDougal, Daniels says she had an affair with Trump. On October 8, 2016, Daniels contacted AMI and offered to sell her story.
AMI alerted Cohen, who contacted Daniels’ attorney, Keith Davidson. (Davidson also represented McDougal.) Over the next few days, Cohen negotiated a contract to pay Daniels $130,000 to buy her silence.
Cohen did not immediately execute the agreement or pay Daniels. But on October 25, 2016, Davidson told AMI that Daniels was prepared to sell her to another outlet. Cohen set up a shell corporation and, on October 27, wired $130,000 to Davidson.
Cohen obtained the money from a fraudulently obtained bank loan. He also pled guilty to six counts of bank fraud and tax evasion.
Cohen, in open court on Tuesday, again said he was acting “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.
Trump then reimbursed Cohen over the course of 2017 for the money he spent keeping Daniels quiet. Cohen submitted false invoices stating the money was for legal services performed in 2017. (He performed no legal work for Trump in 2017.)
Cohen’s payment to Daniels was an illegal excessive contribution to a political campaign. (Individual contributions are limited to $5400 per election cycle.) Cohen faces up to five years in jail for the contribution. Trump is his unindicted co-conspirator.
Corroborating evidence: The Daniels contract
Trump’s involvement with the Daniels deal does not rest on Cohen’s claims alone.
The full text of the hush money agreement was made public when Daniels sued Trump in court to invalidate it. Donald Trump, through an alias, David Dennisen, was a party to the agreement. The contract includes specific actions and representations made by Trump, referred to as “DD,” to induce Daniels, referred to as “PP,” to make the deal.
Trump also acknowledged he was a party to the agreement when he intervened in Daniels’ lawsuit and said Daniels owed him $20 million for talking about their affair.
Trump also admitted, in a federal personal financial disclosure filed this May, that he reimbursed Cohen for his payments to Daniels. The filing said the reimbursements were for “2016 expenses incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen.”
Trump’s cover story never made sense
The cover story that was pushed by Cohen and, at times, Trump, was that Cohen made these payments to Daniels without Trump’s knowledge. This never made any sense.
First, why would Cohen pay Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump without consulting him? If Cohen was going rogue, why would Trump then reimburse him?
A lawyer entering into an agreement for a client without consultation would also constitute legal malpractice.
The story that Cohen told in court today makes sense and is supported by a paper trail.
In April, Trump said he knew nothing about the payments
Speaking to reporters on Air Force 1 on April 5, 2018, Trump denied any knowledge of Cohen’s payments to Daniels.
REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael’s my attorney, and you’ll have to ask Michael
Federal prosecutors asked Michael Cohen, and he told them he was acting at the direction of Trump.
In May, Giuliani said Cohen successfully protected Trump’s campaign
The key claim in Cohen’s guilty plea is that the purpose of the payments was to influence the election. A big problem for Trump is his current attorney, Rudy Guiliani, who said the payments were intended to bolster Trump’s candidacy.
Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton… Cohen made it go away. He did his job.
No formal cooperation deal, but Cohen isn’t done
Cohen’s plea deal did not include a formal provision for cooperation. But Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, says that Cohen isn’t done talking.
This is a new beginning for Michael Cohen, his chance to tell the “rest of the story.” On July 2nd Michael announced his independence and his commitment to tell the truth. (1 of 2)August 21, 2018
It’s also still possible for Cohen to strike a deal with prosecutors for a reduced sentence.
What happens now
Despite evidence that Trump committed crimes, it is unlikely federal prosecutors would indict a sitting president. An opinion by the Department of Justice, which has never been tested in court, argues that a sitting president can not be indicted.
Accountability for crimes committed by Trump, at least while he’s president, would have to come in the form of impeachment and conviction. As Congress is currently composed, that would require the participation of many Republicans.
A wildcard: The composition of Congress could change radically after November’s midterm elections.
My friend Ernie Smith writes a cool newsletter called Tedium that focuses on the "long tail.” It comes out twice a week and each covers a topic that seems like it might be boring but turns out to be fascinating. There was a great one recently on cheap ballpoint pens. You can subscribe at Tedium.co.
Trump campaign manager’s crimes
At another federal courthouse in Virginia, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty on eight felony counts. Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to file a foreign bank account.
The jury deadlocked on 10 additional charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to file a foreign bank account. This will be of little comfort to Manafort.
Manafort, who is 68, already faces a maximum of 85 years in jail and the additional counts were unlikely to impact his sentence since crimes of the same nature are usually served concurrently. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he’s likely to face about 10 years in jail based on today’s guilty verdicts.
Manafort faces another trial next month in Washington DC on additional charges, including “obstruction of justice, failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy to launder money.”
In West Virginia, Trump said that case “doesn’t involve me.” While the core of the conduct relates to Manafort’s time as an international political consultant, the fact pattern established by prosecutors is closely tied to the broader Russia investigation. I explained this in detail in the August 8 edition of Popular Information.
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it was rolling back the Obama administration’s signature environmental achievement, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with something called the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
Whether or not it’s actually affordable depends on your perspective.
The Trump administration’s analysis says “its plan will see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates known as PM 2.5, which are dangerous because of their link to heart and lung disease as well as their ability to trigger chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis.”
The plan largely casts aside the Obama administration’s carbon reduction targets and hands off responsibility for regulating coal plants to the states.
It won’t do much to save the coal industry, which is on an inexorable decline. But even a small increase in coal emissions will have deadly consequences.
The coal industry will not be great again
The new rule is part of Trump’s ongoing campaign to “save” the coal industry. It’s not going to happen.
The reason is simple: it’s more expensive to produce energy with coal than with other methods, including renewable sources.
“Coal is still going to be more expensive per kilowatt-hour than gas, wind, solar PV,” energy consultant Alison Silverstein told Axios. The Trump administration’s projections show coal generation increasing 1-4% over the status quo under the new plan.
Now that the plan has been formally submitted, the public gets 60 days to comment.
Trump’s promise to save the coal industry
“We’re going to put the miners back to work, we’re going to put the miners back to work. We’re gonna get those mines back open,” Trump told a crowd in Charleston, West Virginia in 2016. He hasn’t had much luck.
The Trump administration has already “eased regulations that discouraged plants from using coal and made it more expensive to extract.” But those efforts have not created a rebound for the coal industry, as this chart from Bloomberg demonstrates:
Since 2010, “power plant owners have either retired or announced plans to retire 630 coal plants in 43 states -- nearly 40 percent of the U.S. coal fleet.” There are no plans to build any new coal plants.
Small changes, big impacts
While Trump’s new rule won’t save the coal industry, it will do enough to have a profoundly negative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. In addition to up to 1400 premature deaths, Emily Atkin details the other health impacts of the plan from the Trump administration’s analysis:
120,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma
48,000 new missed days of school
48,000 missed work days
760 non-fatal heart attacks
690 emergency room visits for asthma
300,000 “minor-restricted activity” days
A “minor-restricted activity” day is when you don’t miss work or school but curtail virtually all other activity.
Trump’s greeting in West Virginia
Trump traveled to Charleston, West Virginia on Tuesday to tout his new plan. He was greeted by this story on the front page of the local paper:
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