In this morning’s email in a Subscriber’s post, The Forgotten Crimes, Judd Legum (popular.info) reminds us that Trump is mired in more scandal than just the Ukraine matters.
On Monday … there were significant developments in three distinct scandals facing Trump — all completely unrelated to Ukraine. Congressional Republicans may have decided that Trump is above the law and are content to bury their heads in the sand. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to play along.
The Storm has not passed
Little more than a year ago, Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to felony campaign finance violations. Cohen said that in 2016 he facilitated six-figure payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, at the “direction” of Trump. Cohen and Trump conspired to break campaign finance law for a specific purpose — they wanted to conceal the payment from the public because they believed it would damage his presidential candidacy.
Prosecutors referred to Trump as “Individual–1” and the case established Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in two federal crimes.
Although Trump himself was not charged federally, he may not be in the clear.
On Monday, CNN reported that “David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, has spoken with prosecutors with the New York district attorney’s office as part of its investigation into the Trump Organization’s handling of hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump.” The payments to McDougal were made by the National Enquirer’s parent company, AMI. He was also allegedly involved in the broader effort to “capture and kill” negative stories about Trump.
The meeting, which took place in late October, shows local prosecutors “are still trying to connect the dots between Trump and the hush money payments.” Pecker could be “a potential critical witness down the road in any legal action against Trump or the Trump Organization.” The focus of the investigation is on whether the hush-money payments broke any state laws.
The prosecutors have also “interviewed Cohen at least three times at the Otisville Correctional facility where he is serving a three-year federal prison sentence for multiple crimes, including facilitating the hush money payments.”
Mueller’s main man
Remember Robert Mueller? His detailed report provided compelling evidence that Trump obstructed justice at least four times.
Mueller’s star witness was former White House counsel Don McGahn. In interviews with Mueller’s team, McGahn unequivocally stated he “received at least two phone calls with Trump in which the president ‘directed him to call’ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to have Mueller ‘removed.’”
“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” Trump said, according to McGahn. Trump has denied asking McGahn to direct the firing of Mueller.
McGahn was subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee to testify earlier this year. McGahn refused to comply with the subpoena, citing executive privilege, and the House sued to compel his testimony. On Monday, a federal court ruled that McGahn “(and other senior presidential advisors) do not have absolute immunity from compelled congressional process.” It ordered McGahn to “appear before the Committee to provide testimony, and invoke executive privilege where appropriate.”
The decision, if it is not successfully appealed, could prompt Democrats to expand their impeachment inquiry into matters covered by the Mueller report. It also “could prompt a handful of witnesses in the… Ukraine probe to testify over the president’s objections.” Many witnesses have refused to comply with Houses subpoenas using made similar arguments to McGahn. Those arguments have now been rejected by a federal judge.
The ticking clock on tax returns
Since assuming the presidency, Trump has done anything and everything to keep his tax returns secret. Time may be running out.
In April, the House of Representatives issued a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and other financial information to Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm. The House subpoena relates back to the hush-money payments. It was issued after members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee learned that Trump did not list his debt to Cohen for the payments on his ethics disclosure forms. Cohen also alleged that Trump “inflated and deflated descriptions of his assets on financial statements to obtain loans and reduce his taxes.” The documents held by Mazars USA could prove (or disprove) Cohen’s allegation.
Last month, an appeals court ruled in favor of the House, finding the subpoena “valid and enforceable.” The court ordered Mazars USA to turn over the information. It was a split decision, with two judges ruling to uphold the subpoena and one dissenting. But the dissenting judge cited the lack of a formal impeachment inquiry to justify the search for potential crimes. That is no longer an issue.
The late Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who chaired the Oversight Committee, called the decision “a fundamental and resounding victory for congressional oversight, our constitutional system of checks and balances and the rule of law.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued Trump a reprieve, staying the decision. But the Supreme Court is also moving quickly. It’s giving Trump only until December 5 to file a writ of certiorari requesting the Supreme Court review the case. Then, the court “could announce whether it will hear the case in the coming weeks and, if it does, issue a decision by June.”
If the Supreme Court, however, declines to hear the case, the stay will automatically lift and the subpoena will go into effect.