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Opinion | Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump?

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

On Friday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, delivered a potentially devastating one-two punch against President Trump. Coming late in the day, they made for bracing end-of-the-week reading.

Calling on the court to impose a sentence of substantial imprisonment against Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York stated that Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the campaign were all directly involved in an illegal scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Prosecutors wrote that payments made by Mr. Cohen and other actions were taken “with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election” and pursued “in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1” — that is, Mr. Trump.

The Trump Organization’s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for payments to the women were fraudulently disguised as legal fees — and, according to the memo, were approved by senior executives at the organization. The New York prosecutors also disclosed that they are investigating additional unspecified matters involving Mr. Cohen and, presumably, the Trump Organization. In light of these disclosures, the likelihood that the company and the Trump campaign face charges is now high.

Although President Trump may avoid a similar fate because the Justice Department is unlikely to indict a sitting president, he could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, as was President Richard Nixon, or charged if he leaves office before the statute of limitations runs out (most likely in 2022).

In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion — the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.

Mr. Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.

The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.

Mr. Trump’s legal woes do not end there. The special counsel also advanced the president’s potential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.

If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both the president and his company could face substantial jeopardy.

In a second blow to the president, on Friday prosecutors also disclosed a list of false statements that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, allegedly made to federal investigators in breach of the cooperation agreement he entered into following his conviction for financial fraud and subsequent guilty plea to criminal conspiracy.

Some of the lies that the special counsel spells out in the redacted memorandum appear to implicate the president and those close to him in possible collusion and obstruction crimes. Notably, Mr. Manafort is accused of lying to the special counsel regarding his contacts with the Trump administration.

We don’t know the content of those contacts, but considering public statements about potential pardons, it is not hard to imagine they could implicate the president and others in a conspiracy to obstruct justice or witness tampering if, for example, they suggested a potential pardon if Mr. Manafort protected the president.

Contrary to the president’s claim that all of this “totally clears” him, the danger to Mr. Trump, his business and his campaign has compounded significantly. For all these reasons, the president is unlikely to have a restful, tweet-free weekend — or a calm 2019, for that matter.

Barry Berke is co-chairman of the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where he is a partner specializing in white-collar criminal defense. Noah Bookbinder is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former federal corruption prosecutor. Norman Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and author of “The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House.”

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