When Michael Cohen’s guilty plea was announced and the president’s former attorney said that he was directed by Donald Trump to commit campaign finance violations in relation to obtaining nondisclosure agreements from Stormy Daniels and others who alleged they had affairs with the president, Rep. Jerrold Nadler — the New York Democrat who was at that point destined to become the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — sat po-faced on any cable news program that would have him and said this was an impeachable offense.
“They would be impeachable offenses. Whether they’re important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” Nadler told CNN.
“Certainly, they’re impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office,” he said.
Nadler has roughly zero credibility in this matter for several reasons. The primary one is that Nadler said the president was “illegitimate” even before Trump took office and the possibility of campaign finance violations was brought up.
But then there’s also the fact that this is nowhere as big of a deal as the Democrats want us to believe this to be — something the president brought up Saturday on Twitter.
Or, if it is, they should have been busy getting Barack Obama out of office, too.
“Many people currently a part of my opposition, including President Obama & the Dems, have had campaign violations, in some cases for very large sums of money,” the president tweeted.
Many people currently a part of my opposition, including President Obama & the Dems, have had campaign violations, in some cases for very large sums of money. These are civil cases. They paid a fine & settled. While no big deal, I did not commit a campaign violation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2019
“These are civil cases,” he continued. “They paid a fine & settled. While no big deal, I did not commit a campaign violation!”
What Trump was referring to were campaign finance violations by Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, a relatively major series of infractions for which it ended up paying $375,000 — one of the largest Federal Election Commission fines in history.
“The major sticking point for the FEC appeared to be a series of missing 48-hour notices for nearly 1,300 contributions totaling more than $1.8 million — an issue that lawyers familiar with the commission’s work say the FEC takes seriously,” Maggie Haberman wrote for Politico back in 2013.
“The notices must be filed on contributions of $1,000 or more that are received within the 20-day window of Election Day.
“More than half of those contributions were transferred from the Obama Victory Fund, a joint committee between the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.”
The two are different in nature and size, the first favoring Obama and the second favoring Trump. A better example might be the John Edwards case, in which a payment taken from campaign donors was used to cover up the existence of a love child during the Democrat’s 2008 presidential campaign.
In the end, jurors were deadlocked on whether the case involved a campaign finance violation. In Edwards’ case, the evidence was far more clear that the former North Carolina senator had covered up his affair for political as opposed to personal reasons, and he hadn’t declared what were obviously campaign funds, yet federal prosecutors still couldn’t get a conviction and chose not to retry the case.
In Trump’s case, it was his own money, which means the point can’t necessarily be made that this was a political expenditure.
The president has also made the argument — certainly not a bad one — that he was acting on the advice of counsel.
If Cohen doesn’t have evidence clearly contradicting this, we’re again in difficult territory.
The point is that given these exculpatory differences between the two cases, it’s hard to see this as something that wouldn’t be handled via civil penalty if there was even a campaign finance violation.
Then again, it’s hardly surprising to see different arguments from people who always believed Trump was illegitimate from the very moment he was elected.