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HORIST: Is Trump in trouble?

HORIST: Is Trump in trouble?

Those with a visceral hate for Donald Trump go on the attack against anyone who disagrees with them on any point for any reason.  Despite their pompous claims to the contrary, that have little interest in facts, truths and rational objectivity.  Lynch mobs have little interest in laws and justice.  I do.

The people who form the #NeverTrump resistance movement attack me on Facebook.  Of course, they dishonestly represent me as a person, misrepresent my writings and accuse me of being every negative “-ist” they can conjure even though all such pejorative accusations are totally without merit.

So, let me AGAIN make myself clear.

During the 2016 campaign and since, I have been consistent in my harsh criticism for President Trump’s pugnacious personality, his obsessive ego, his descending into petty peeing contests and his tendency toward inaccuracy, to say the least.  I have often said that of the 16 Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination, Trump was my 17th choice.

When faced with the binary choice between Trump and Clinton – a choice based on the more important policies, not personalities – it was not a difficult decision to cast my vote for Trump.  Since he took office, I have been pleasantly surprised that he has been even a better implementor of conservative policies then I had expected.  The personality issues and the various salacious side-shows have been and continue to be secondary for me – and, I assume, for millions out there like me.

To the many Facebook and other friends who have predicted Trump’s impeachment, I have said, “Go ahead.  Does not matter to me.  I would be very happy with a President Pence – the great policies without the terrible personality.”  The point is, my loyalty is NOT to Trump but to the policies that I believe are best for America.

I offer up this repetitious explanation because I will not join the #NeverTrump lynch mob.  Nor will I side with the #EverTrump folks.  I make that clarification because it is my desire to give honest and accurate meaning to the conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty pleas of Michael Cohen and, as often in my case, neither side will be entirely pleased.  However, my internal sense of honesty and objectify will be satisfied.

Not long ago, I opined that if Trump were to find himself in a serious mess, it would not be the Russian collusion crap, or even obstruction of justice.  It would come from people much closer to him – and for a longer time.  Virtually every charge against Paul Manafort appears to have nothing to do with Trump.  The reason Manafort did not flip could be because he had nothing to offer up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Manafort may be just a not-so-innocent bystander that got mowed down by Mueller as he explored for crimes he could tie to Trump.

With Manafort not being the path to get at Trump, and the George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn prospects withering, Mueller has few prospects to pursue and squeeze with criminal indictments.  That made Cohen the prime candidate. 

If there were any shenanigans, they would likely have involved Cohen.  They could have included shady business dealings, accounting or tax issues, bribes to New York bureaucrats or foreign government officials.  Those are all speculative and scurrilous – simply conjuring up the kinds of crimes to which a major New York and international real estate developer might succumb.  If there are any such issues for real, Cohen would likely have been involved.

Get him facing a figurative life sentence on an array of charges and hope that the man who once said he would take a bullet for Trump would find a long prison sentence worse than a bullet. Cohen was a good target for Mueller.  He was a sleazeball attorney whose loyalty to Trump was for the benefits of hanging around a major player and making good money in the process.  He was, and is, a serial liar – meaning he will comfortably tell the most audacious untruths to benefit himself.  If someone had approached him and Trump with a gun, Cohen is more likely to have shielded himself behind Trump than taken the bullet.  That’s the kind of guy he is.

Cohen’s character, however, is not the issue.  It is what he knows and what he can prove.  Many, me included, saw Cohen as potentially the greatest potential threat.  Whether he becomes more than just a threat and can really bring evidence of criminal charges or trigger a bill of impeachment against the President is yet to be seen.

As can be expected, the east coast, anti-Trump media cabal has declared their verdict in the flawed and unreliable court-of-public-opinion. As with any rush-to-judgment, they ignore the facts and complexities of the accusations, and the legal realities that would be involved in a real court-of-law.  It is not as simple as they prefer to believe or hope to convince.  They do not operate out of objectivity or devotion to the truth, but out of a partisan strategy to bring Trump down regardless of the facts.

So, let’s look at the facts as they might be related to the real law and not just to media spin. 

It is now a fact that Cohen has pled guilty to eight criminal counts – six of which deal with his own behavior and do not seem to involve Trump.

Then there are two counts that claim that Cohen, at the claimed direction of Trump, paid off porn performer Stormy Daniels to prevent her from going public during the campaign.  The prosecution claimed that the Daniels payment was a violation of campaign finance laws.  It was too big and went unreported.  Cohen gave support to that argument by pleading guilty to those charges as part of the more encompassing plea bargain.

Incidentally, we need to understand that the plea bargain does not mean that Cohen is a “cooperating witness” for Mueller.  Those are two different issues.  The question is: Has Cohen signed the documents that make him officially a cooperating witness?  We do not know, but it does not appear that he has.  However, it would be very unusual for a case to be settled with a plea agreement before the person agreed to cooperate.  Although it is unusual, Mueller & Company could make a deal to influence sentencing after the conviction.

Since Cohen has now pled guilty to violating federal campaign laws in concert with Trump, does that mean the President is guilty – or even that Cohen actually violated the law.  Prosecutors say he did and Cohen said he did, but it is possible that neither he nor Trump broke the law.

That seeming conundrum requires a bit more explanation.  Cohen was facing a lot of years in prison for those first six charges of criminal behavior.  He needed a plea agreement to reduce his sentence.  The only way he could get that deal was to give the Mueller team what they really wanted – a link to Trump. 

In a very real sense, the prosecutors wanted Cohen to admit to a crime of which he was not guilty – and might have been exonerated by a jury.  His politically biased attorney, Lanny Davis, seemed to be guiding Cohen’s defense less by Cohen’s interest and more out of a desire to get at Trump.  According to many legal experts, Cohen could have fought and beaten the campaign finance violation charges.  But that would have detached Trump from the case.  Davis’ priorities were obvious when he said that he did not want Trump to grant a pardon and that Cohen would not accept it.  Putting aside the fact that recipients cannot refuse a pardon, what kind of attorney tries to block a pardon for his client?   Davis seems to be working for the prosecutors more than his client – something approaching malpractice.

With Cohen admitting guilt, how can Trump not be charged and convicted?

First, there is the yet unanswered question if Trump has been taped making incriminating statements.  So far, that has not been the case.  In fact, the widely and eagerly reported “fact” that Cohen had proof that Trump knew in advance of the meeting with Russians in Trump Tower has now been declared untrue by Cohen’s attorney.  Cohen could make that claim on a witness stand, but his credibility would be so bad that it is unlikely that even rabid prosecutors would risk it.

As one might expect, the best explanation of the case against Trump – or the weakness thereof — comes from Alan Dershowitz – one of the left’s most respected lawyers until he refused to give up his honest professional opinion and join the anti-Trump lynch mob. 

As Dershowitz explains, to be convicted of a campaign violation, the person must know that he or she is violating the law.  It has to be with malice of forethought.  Did Cohen and Trump know they were violating that law?  Or did Cohen know – ergo guilty – and Trump not know – ergo not guilty?  That is also possible.

The law also requires – at least arguably – that the contribution in question must have no other objective purpose.  Trump can easily claim a few purposes – to protect his businesses or to protect his marriage.  According to Dershowitz, that could legitimatize the payoff to Daniels.

Then there is the question of the source of the money.  If it is determined to be Trump’s own personal money, there is no crime.  Under election laws, there is no limit on what candidates can contribute to their own campaigns.  There is a possibility of a reporting violation, but those are common and generally handled with a fine – and only if they knew the money was a violation and it did not have any secondary purposes.

They have charged Cohen with an illegal corporate contribution, but if Trump’s business is a Sub-chapter S corporation, in which all proceeds flow to private ownership, that charge may fail.  And there is still the issue of repayment, which also undermines the criminal charges.  We should not forget that Cohen claimed that HE mortgaged his home to pay off Daniels.  It was not even Trump’s money.

There is no doubt that the Manafort conviction and the Cohen guilty pleas are not good for Trump – legally or politically – but there is a long prosecutorial road ahead before they can bring about credible or indefensible charges against the President.  None of the points above exonerate Trump, but they do not mean he is or will be found guilty of any crimes.

There is still the question as to whether a sitting president can be indicted or even subpoenaed.  The current opinions and Department of Justice guidelines suggest not – but it has never been settled by the Supreme Court.  If Mueller were to subpoena or indict Trump, you can rest assured that the issue would land in the Supreme Court – and a new Justice Kavanaugh would not have to recuse himself.

All these matters could have the Mueller investigation going on for years to come – even past the 2020 election.  Trump critics should recall that in a similar situation, when President Nixon was up to his neck in the Watergate investigation, he won one of the most impressive re-election victories in American history.  He resigned rather than face impeachment, but many scholars argue that had he not resigned, he would have been impeached – a la Bill Clinton – but not convicted and removed from office.  Removing a duly elected president is a very high bar, indeed.  Never been done – and Trump is not likely to resign even in the face of an impeachment or Senate trial.

When and how all this will end is an uncertainty regardless of the hyper hyperbole of the #NeverTrump resistors.  If Trump is ultimately proven to have committed serious crimes, and is forced out of office, I will not shed any tears.  Justice must be served.  If it turns out that all the accusations of his less-than-knowledgeable critics are nothing more than political hot air, I will not shed any tears. 

As has been cautioned over and over again since the appointment of Mueller, we have to wait to see what Mueller says and does.  Of course, those who said that in one breath, immediately started speculating in the next.  This political melodrama is way not over and there will be many twists and turns in the coming days.  Rather than signing on with the #NeverTrump resistance movement or the #EverTrump see-no-evil movement, the prudent observer will sit back, ignore the extreme rhetoric on both sides and wait for something definitive to happen – which will likely come from Mueller.

We just also understand that all the hyperventilating has less to do with Trump’s character and policies and everything to do with influencing public opinion before the November election.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.