Right Opinion

Cohen and Mueller

Bill Wagner · Aug. 25, 2018

For the last few months I have not been the most popular member of our local Donald Trump fan club. It’s not because I think Trump is a flawed individual or because I cringe at times when reading his tweets. All the members are in sync there. We are all also aligned on our assessment of Trump’s performance. We are thrilled at his polices and in awe of what he has actually accomplished in the face of unprecedented Democrat/media obstruction and resistance.

I’ve become the dartboard because I have held to the belief that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was an honest broker who was handed a broad mandate and is simply doing his job by following all the threads. I thought he was winding up his investigation and was likely to finalize it shortly with a report that will find no evidence of Russian collusion with Trump. That all ended with Michael Cohen’s plea deal.

I’ll explain in a second, but first, the stipulations. I have no sympathy for Cohen. The evidence was overwhelming that he committed tax and bank fraud, and he deserved whatever goes along with that. Ditto for Paul Manafort. The law in these areas is very strict for good reason. I recall some decades ago when a colleague of mine who was 25 years old at the time was found guilty of bank fraud for filing a false application for an acquisition loan that was never approved. He listed a loan he had on his books from another bank as “equity” and spent three years in federal prison, so holding a potential multi-year sentence over both Cohen and Manafort is no surprise.

What constituted the last straw for me in viewing Mueller’s role in this was the supposed campaign-finance violation that was thrown into Cohen’s plea deal. Now, I realize that Manafort actually went to trial under the auspices of Mueller’s special counsel and was convicted, while Cohen’s case was offloaded by Mueller to the New York branch of the Justice Department. But nothing in these cases happens without coordination with the overall Justice Department and Mueller’s special counsel, so who prosecuted each is a distinction without a difference. They were all involved.

I also have no sympathy for Trump in the sense that he picked these guys. I deal with private companies every day, so I understand how a lot of private company owners and entrepreneurs approach personnel decisions. More often than not (and more often than I frequently believe is prudent), decisions are made on gut feelings and without the extensive vetting in which most larger public companies or public-sector entities engage. Trump is no exception. He fires from the hip, and if it doesn’t work out, he just fires the ill-suited person and moves on.

As for Manafort, remember that Trump’s options for campaign executives in 2016 were extremely limited, since all the usual suspects were already committed to other candidates. Trump was short on time, so he went with a guy who looked on paper like he had both the political experience and contacts to do the job Trump wanted done, which was to make the trains run on time and deal with the GOP machinery. Trump was essentially his own political consultant. When Manafort didn’t measure up after a couple months, he was gone.

Many folks of Trump’s ilk have their Cohens — someone who inhabits the space between lawyer and fixer and is used to provide some distance for the client to avoid direct involvement in things like being blackmailed by gold-digging women. Maybe these guys are not all of the highest character, but they serve a purpose and get the job done.

There is zero sympathy for Trump in opening himself up to extortion by having affairs with an adult film actress and a Playboy bunny. But after a career lived in the New York tabloids and the Access Hollywood video, it’s not exactly a news flash that the GOP candidate for 2016 was not a Boy Scout. So it is entirely plausible that concern for another piece of bad-boy campaign PR was ranked alongside concern over the impact on Trump’s family or business. As long as these types of payments have any plausible use other than a “campaign donation” and therefore are not “solely” to benefit the campaign, they are not, according to campaign-finance law, donations.

Which makes Cohen’s plea to committing campaign-finance violations totally bogus. Given that the feds were not lacking for fraud charges, it begs the question as to why they would turn to some highly dubious campaign-finance charge. Furthermore, why would Cohen plead guilty to a non-crime? In a glorified statement of the obvious, the only reason has to be political, since nothing else in the charges against either person involved Trump, and none involved Russian collusion. It was the only way to potentially tie Trump to the criminals. It is also so blatantly political that it clarifies the motivation of the entire Mueller exercise.

It doesn’t take a triple-digit IQ to imagine the chat between Cohen and the feds. We have a few dozen counts pending against you, and we also have your wife in our sights because you filed joint tax returns. Total potential years could amount to life. But if you also plead to this campaign-finance violation, there might be something we can do. But when they announce the plea deal, they make a point that Cohen has not committed to “cooperate” with investigators, so it looks like there has been no quid pro quo and, and his attack on Trump comes from the heart. And yes, they think Americans are idiots.

It took Cohen’s counsel, Lanny Davis of Clinton fame (just who is Lanny working for here?), about three nanoseconds to go public with indications that Cohen might have some knowledge of Trump collusion with Russia that he might just be willing to share with Mueller.

Speaking of Davis, he also has the same opinion of the American citizen IQ. He raised the question of why Trump is not “guilty” of a campaign crime when he colluded with Cohen, who has pleaded guilty already. Great circular logic, and ridiculous legal theory, since it assumes that what Cohen pleaded to is a crime (which it isn’t) and is only a plea deal, not an adjudicated verdict.

He also went on every cable TV program known to man to tell the world how brave it is for Cohen (at great expense to his family) to stand up to Trump and tell the truth. And, oh, by the way, please send your donations to the GoFundMe website so Cohen “can continue to tell the truth,” which, of course, has nothing to do with being able to continue to pay Davis. Gee, I thought if Cohen wanted to continue to tell the truth, he could, well, just tell the truth. Not sure where funding enters the picture.

To pile on, Davis then assures us that Cohen would never accept a pardon from such a despicable human as Trump, no matter what. Again, it’s not clear who Davis is working for here. One might imagine that Cohen would rethink this if the option were a pardon versus 50 years in the big house, but hey, anything to try to spin the playing field as being so anti-Trump that a saint like Cohen would serve jail time before accepting anything from the man.

And it has all been coordinated with the media and Democrats. Impeachment based on Trump being party to committing the non-crime is the subject of every news segment, and Democrats and the media have joined forces to threaten GOP candidates with mountains of bad PR unless they sever their ties to Trump for the midterms, which Democrats know full well would be the death knell for most GOP candidates.

There is also the hope that the innuendo surrounding complex election laws will lower Trump’s approval ratings and make impeachment more feasible. Chuck Schumer, et al., are even using the bogus excuse of having a new Supreme Justice “acting a juror in a potential impeachment proceeding” as a rationale to delay Brett Kavanagh’s confirmation. Sounds really bad, but no one seemed to remind Chuck that the Senate, not the Supreme Court, is the jury in impeachment.

The bottom line of all this is that you can debate whether it was appropriate for the special counsel to drift into non-Russia collusion areas, but there are real crimes here for Cohen and Manafort, and justice is justice on tax and bank fraud. But the addition of the campaign plea on a non-crime is solely for political purposes to get Trump, and that should not be the goal of our justice system.

My two cents is that this is going to go nowhere with Trump, and as Democrats overplay their hand, the inspector general report will surface on the FISA matters, thereby freeing up Trump to declassify all the related documents. The heat will turn on the conduct of the FBI and Justice Department, and Mueller will be outed for the political hack he is. It took the Cohen plea to get me there, but my fellow Trump fan club members have been right all along.

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