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.”
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!”
….which it was not (but even if it was, 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.