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Crimes Aren't Crimes: Trump and His Allies Are Moving the Goalposts to Legally Protect Him
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=29276"><span class="small">Ryan Koronowski, ThinkProgress</span></a>   
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 13:38

Koronowski writes: "During an interview with David Frost in 1977, Richard Nixon explained what he believed a president was allowed to do in order to protect 'national security,' saying that 'when the president [breaks the law] ... it is not illegal.'"

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press that he thought America had 'over-criminalized campaign finance.' (photo: Getty Images)
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press that he thought America had 'over-criminalized campaign finance.' (photo: Getty Images)

Crimes Aren't Crimes: Trump and His Allies Are Moving the Goalposts to Legally Protect Him

By Ryan Koronowski, ThinkProgress

11 December 18

“You can make anything a crime under the current laws.”

uring an interview with David Frost in 1977, Richard Nixon explained what he believed a president was allowed to do in order to protect “national security,” saying that “when the president [breaks the law]…it is not illegal.”

This is not perhaps the ideal defense strategy for President Trump, nor his crew of loyalists on Capitol Hill — but it appears they’re trying it anyway.

The most recent court filings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office and the Southern District of New York reveal Trump directed former lawyer Michael Cohen to make hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president, ahead of the 2016 election — allegations that might have prevented Trump from being elected president if they went public. Trump was also pursuing a business deal in Moscow shortly before clinching the GOP nomination, about which Cohen lied to Congress.

Directing one’s lawyer to commit multiple felonies to win an election is itself a felony. Trump and his allies, however, are now claiming that while Trump may have taken part in such acts, none of them should be considered crimes.

On Monday, the president tweeted that the two payments — one to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and a second unfulfilled payment arrangement to former Playboy model Karen McDougal — were instead “a simple private transaction,” not a campaign contribution. If the payments were indeed crimes, he wrote, they were Cohen’s fault.

Trump then pivoted to attacking his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

“‘…No Smocking [sic] Gun…No Collusion,'” he wrote, appearing to quote Fox News. “That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not (but even if it was it is only it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s – but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!”

Rather than countering Trump’s dismissive (and false) rhetoric, congressional Republicans who previously called for rigorous oversight have eagerly lined up to defend the president.

Incoming House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) downplayed Trump’s involvement with the two payments and the Moscow deal during an interview Monday morning on Fox News.

“I think what it shows, if the president hires an attorney to solve a problem, he expects him to do it in a legal manner,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy then referred to comments from potential incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA), who one day earlier had suggested Trump might “face the real prospect of jail time” as a result of Mueller’s investigation.

“If Schiff is taking this beyond to go forward and say there is an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem… there are a lot of members in Congress who would have to leave for that same [reason],” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said congressional investigations were too small of an agenda for America.

McCarthy previously admitted in September 2015 the costly investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi was intended as part of a political strategy “to fight and win” by bringing down Clinton’s poll numbers.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press that he thought America had “over-criminalized campaign finance.”

“I don’t know what’s illegal about building a hotel in Russia,” he said. “… We have to decide whether or not criminal penalties are the way we should approach criminal finance.”

Paul argued that fines were a more appropriate punishment for campaign finance violations than jail time.

Asked about Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding the Moscow real estate deal, Paul said, “I guess I don’t quite understand it because I don’t know what’s illegal about trying to build a hotel in Russia. So this is pretty common, and I see no problem with someone running for president trying to build a hotel somewhere.”

Building a hotel in Russia is not illegal. Lying to investigators about how late into the presidential campaign Trump pursued the deal would be illegal. And further, the early communication with someone claiming to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who offered “synergy on a government level” with the Trump campaign is central to the legal question at the heart of the Russia investigation: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.

Paul added, “If we get this way and if we’re going to prosecute people and put them in jail for campaign finance violations, we’ve become a banana republic where every president gets prosecuted and everybody gets thrown in jail when they’re done with office.”

On Monday evening, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also told CNN’s Manu Raju that he was not concerned about Trump being implicated in a felony. “The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president,” he claimed.

When Raju explained the implication had come from a document filed by the Southern District of New York, Hatch doubled down.

“Okay but I don’t care,” he said. “All I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.”

He added “you can make anything a crime under the current laws.”

Hatch’s words contradicted his own past comments. In 1999, just before casting a vote to impeach President Bill Clinton, Hatch criticized the president for lying to the public about his affair with a White House intern.

“Committing crimes of moral turpitude such as perjury and obstruction of justice go to the heart of qualification for public office,” Hatch said at the time. “…This great nation can tolerate a President who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up. Any other citizen would be prosecuted for these crimes.”

In the past year and a half, both Trump and his supporters have moved the goal posts on the Mueller investigation several times, initially claiming the president had done nothing wrong and later changing their narrative to fit any developments out of Mueller’s office.

In June, nearly two years after he claimed he had no involvement with Russia whatsoever, Trump tweeted that he was allowed to pardon himself, but didn’t need to because he had committed no crimes.

“…Why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” he wrote. “In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues…!”

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+8 # indian weaving 2018-12-11 15:37
Looks like we're coming to the point where we'll have to convince congress and administration that We The People rule, not them (as in: France). It'll be difficult but worth it. Like a divorce, the motivation is regaining the freedom and joy that will be in our lives and country again.
+5 # Kiwikid 2018-12-11 16:51
I wouldn't want to buy a used car from any of these clowns.
+3 # BetaTheta 2018-12-11 22:27
All the apologists blithely take Trump's actions out of context. No, there is nothing illegal about building a hotel in Moscow. But seeking the help of the hostile power using dirty tricks to win you an election? And a "personal transaction," timed as this one was, ceases to be one when done secretly in the context of an election.
-1 # 2018-12-12 05:03
Equity demands that if Trump were sent to jail for bimbo payoffs on the theory that they are undeclared campaign expenditures, a huge number of senators and congressmen as well as John Edwards would be also have to be sent to jail. At least Trump used his own private money to pay the hush money while the legislators use taxpayer money to hush up their sexual missteps and Edwards used campaign donor money.

I am no fan of Trump and certainly did not vote for him but if anyone is moving goalposts here, it is certainly those who have failed to indict Edwards and dozens of other politicians who have done the same thing only worse in the recent past.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
-8 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-12 07:46
I think the logic of this piece is faulty. Cohen's payments to the porn stars was only a crime because that is how Mueller phrased it in Cohen's plea agreement. In other situations, such payments would not have been illegal nor campaign violations. Cohen accepted these acts as crimes only because that's what Mueller demanded he do in order to avoid some jail time. Cohen's plea does not apply to Trump.

Mueller is criminalizing things that are not normally crimes, such as FARA violations, the Logan Act, and most frequently minor process perjuries.

On the last, the example of Coris is instructive because we have a fuller story. Corsi was asked by Mueller's people about an email he sent to someone in London about Assange. He did not remember the email so what he answered was not true. After the interview, he went home and looked up the email, read it, and realized he gave the investigators the wrong information. In the next session, he corrected himself. But Mueller is still charging him with perjury. He was wrong on the first response, but he corrected himself. Normally this is not perjury/ Perjury is not memory lapse. To Mueller it is. .

Most of the perjury charges are flimsy like this. Only 6 people in history have been charged for FARA violations. Only 2 people for Logan violations.

Mueller is criminalizing political differences. That is far more dangerous that what he is accusing Trump's people of doing.

A prosecutor like Mueller can criminalize anything.
+3 # Concerned Citizen 2018-12-12 08:08
Good that the lyers, cheaters, and those with no ethical or moral boundaries are self-identifyin g. Up to the American voters whether they will continue to tolerate such behavior in their elected officials.
+3 # futhark 2018-12-12 08:40
"...when the president [breaks the law]…it is not illegal.” = definition of a tyrannical dictatorship.
+6 # Porfiry 2018-12-12 08:53
Notice how McConnell, Hatch (my old friend and high school classmate), and other Republicans change their tunes 180 degrees when it is one of their own that is under investigation. No integrity. No honesty. Horrible.