In a week that saw the downfall of two of Donald Trump‘s top aides, even the president himself is discussing the possibility of his impeachment.
“If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash,” he continued. “I think everybody would be very poor because without this thinking you would see — you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”
When asked what grade he would give himself for his job performance in the White House, he responded, “I give myself an A+.”
The comments come during an explosive week for the White House. On Tuesday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, 69, was convicted of eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud, and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, 51, pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, including tax fraud, false statements to a bank, and campaign finance violations.
Cohen implicated Trump when he said that “a candidate for federal office” (which is universally understood to be Trump) directed payments prior to the 2016 presidential election to two women who claim to have had affairs with him, porn star Stormy Daniels, 39, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, 47. (Trump has denied the affairs.) Cohen admitted to a federal judge that he made the payments “for the purpose of influencing the election.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Trump “did nothing wrong” and there are “no charges against him.”
In the latest development in the Cohen case, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the attorney’s decision to break with Trump and plead guilty was motivated by a recent conversation Cohen had with his father, who said he did not survive the Holocaust to have his family’s name “sullied” by Trump.
A source familiar with the matter told the Journal that Maurice Cohen, a Polish Holocaust survivor, urged his son not to protect Trump.
After resigning as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee on June 20, Cohen referenced his father in a tweet marking his first public criticism of Trump.
“As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy [are] heart wrenching,” Cohen said in a since-deleted tweet, according to the Journal.
Also on Wednesday, it was reported that one of Trump’s most powerful allies, David Pecker, chairman of The National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., appears to have turned against the president as well.
Vanity Fair reported that, according to two sources briefed on the Cohen investigation, federal prosecutors have granted immunity to Pecker, as well as to A.M.I.’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, in exchange for explaining Trump’s potential involvement in Cohen’s payments to Daniels and McDougal during the 2016 campaign.
Pecker and Howard did not respond to Vanity Fair‘s multiple requests for comment.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Pecker’s cooperation on Wednesday night, Vanity Fair noted.
The outlet also said that Pecker and Howard’s conversations with investigators seem to have “informed the charging documents” in the Cohen case.
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Still, CNN has reported that Trump is likely not in legal jeopardy, noting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has “apparently” told the president’s legal team that they will adhere to Justice Department regulations saying a sitting president can’t be indicted.
CNN argued that impeachment is a more likely threat to Trump. But some legal experts say this probably won’t happen either.
Joshua Dressler, a law professor at Ohio State University, tells Vox that Cohen’s admission that he made the payments ” ‘at the direction of a candidate for federal office,’ clearly implicates the president in those campaign violations.” But it may not matter.
“If he were not a sitting president this would constitute grounds for indictment on those charges,” Dressler argued. “As a sitting president this constitutes, if Congress wishes to do so, impeachable offenses. But, as we know, impeachment is a political rather than a legal concept, and it would seem pretty clear that nothing will occur with the current Congress.”
Sol Wisenberg, who conducted grand jury questioning of former President Bill Clinton as deputy independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation, tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he believes Cohen’s plea deal leads Trump “closer to ultimate impeachment proceedings, particularly if the Democrats take back the House.”
But most Democrats have been reluctant to call for Trump’s impeachment, especially those running in crucial midterm races, The Washington Post reports.
“I don’t want to see a two-year distraction,” said Susan Wild, a Democratic nominee favored to win a key Republican-held House seat in Pennsylvania tells the Post. “I think, honestly, impeachment proceedings would obviously derail getting other things done in Congress.”
The Post also reports that most Democrats have come to believe that “moral revulsion with political leaders is often only a deciding issue for voters who enjoy a level of economic security to look beyond their immediate needs” — a lesson they learned from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 tactics against Trump.
The question of what’s next for Trump also depends on what Cohen might tell Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s ties to Russia.
After Cohen’s guilty plea on Tuesday, his attorney, Lanny Davis, went on a media blitz in which he repeatedly suggested that Cohen has information that would be of interest to Mueller — specifically about the hacking of the Democratic National Convention during the 2016 election, and about Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.’s mid-campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Davis said that Cohen had “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”
He elaborated to The Washington Post, “A conspiracy to commit a crime becomes a crime if there’s one overt act — meaning you do anything to implement the crime. If there is a conversation and a plan for there to be dirt on Hillary Clinton, and then someone knows the way you’re willing to get the dirt is a Russian agent called WikiLeaks . . . and then WikiLeaks hacks into an email account, which is a crime, then you have committed a crime of conspiracy.”
If Trump knew in advance about the meeting, he could be accused of having participated in a criminal conspiracy, the Post reports.
But, the newspaper adds, “It’s very unlikely Trump would be indicted on such a charge, especially given how speculative it is.”
Meanwhile, though Manafort’s conviction on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud does not directly implicate Trump, it could strengthen the special counsel investigation and prompt Manafort to strike a deal and agree to cooperate with investigators, the Post says.
“The combination of the Manafort conviction and the guilty plea by Michael Cohen creates a legal maelstrom for the president’s lawyers, who now have to do battle on two fronts, fending off unrelated charges that both involve individuals who were at one time close to the president,” Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who now works at the firm McCarter & English, tells the Post.
Timothy Belevetz, a former federal prosecutor now with the firm Holland & Knight, called the Manafort verdict “an important milestone” for Mueller.
“So far, the office has charged more than 30 individuals and has secured a number of guilty pleas, which is not insignificant,” he said. “This is a big win for the special counsel.”