By Tyler Bauer
A few days ago, President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for a variety of crimes. Many people are making this out to be a huge blow to the Trump administration and further evidence that President Trump will be removed from office. That’s not the case, though. Let’s take a look at Cohen’s crimes to see why this isn’t true.
Michael Cohen failed to report multiple revenue streams on his tax returns. In total, Cohen failed to report about $4 million worth of income between 2012 and 2016. The sources of Cohen’s hidden income were in no way nefarious. Some of the income came from personal loans Cohen gave, some of the income came from brokering real estate transactions, and some of the income came from doing work as a consultant.
I think just about everyone knows that tax evasion is a crime. That being said, I have no problem with Cohen – or anyone, for that matter – keeping the money they earned. So, I couldn’t care less about Cohen not reporting $4 million worth of his income over a five year period. It’s illegal, but I say more power to him.
More important than what this crime means to me is what it means to the political system as a whole. This crime has absolutely nothing to do with the status President Trump or politics in any way. The most this means is that President Trump’s personal lawyer lied to the IRS and isn’t smart enough to cover his tracks. This doesn’t threaten Trump’s presidency in any way.
Lying to Financial Institutions
In 2015, Cohen lied a number of times to a bank regarding his net worth, monthly expenses, and debts. The most egregious lie told by Cohen was his failure to disclose that he owed $20 million to another bank and failure to disclose his monthly payment of $70,000 to that bank.
I don’t have an argument in favor of Cohen for this crime. Cohen clearly committed fraud, and I think he deserves to go to jail for this crime.
While committing fraud on this level is certainly despicable, it is in no way political. All this proves is that Cohen is a shady person and someone who you shouldn’t do business with. Sure, this reflects poorly on President Trump’s judgement of the character of those who he does business with, but this isn’t the bombshell that will bring down the Trump presidency.
Illegal Campaign Contributions
Cohen’s conviction on illegal campaign contributions stems from his payments to silence Karen McDougal – a model – and Stormy Daniels – an (adult) actress. On its surface, paying hush money is perfectly legal. Legally speaking, it’s just a normal contract. However, things get a bit more difficult when the hush money is being paid on behalf of the man seeking the highest office in the nation. In total, Cohen paid the two women hundreds of thousands of dollars so they wouldn’t go public with their affairs with then-candidate Trump.
How do these payments amount to illegal campaign contributions? Well, the U.S. Attorney claims that these were “expenditures” meant to “influence the election.” Under this argument, the hush money payments should have, at the very least, been reported to the Federal Elections Commission. While I understand this argument, I can’t say I fully believe it.
As Bradley A. Smith of the National Review points out, this argument creates quite the slippery slope. Theoretically, the essential things candidates use – everything from toothpaste to a nice shirt – become campaign expenditures by the U.S. Attorney’s logic. Therefore, virtually any candidate ever would be guilty of illegal campaign contributions for their failure to report campaign expenditures.
So, even though this does implicate President Trump, I have a hard time believing this will do any real damage to him. First, as stated above, the U.S. Attorney really had to twist the meaning of campaign finance laws to find a way to charge Cohen. Second, this twist implicates virtually every candidate ever. Lastly, is anyone actually surprised that Trump had affairs and attempted to pay off his mistresses? I know I’m not. This is the kind of thing that people like President Trump do all the time. That doesn’t make it right, but I don’t see how anyone can honestly be shocked or outraged by this.
Lying to Congress
The final of the four crimes Cohen is charged with is lying to Congress. Cohen lied to Congress in claiming that then-candidate Trump was no longer seeking the Russian government’s support for a planned Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen later admitted to investigators that he lied when he made this claim, and clarified that President Trump was still seeking the Russian government’s support for a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election cycle.
Quite frankly, who cares if Trump is building a tower somewhere? He has towers, hotels, plazas, and more all over the world. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an international businessman wants to grow his international business. After all, President Trump didn’t get so rich by not growing his business.
In my opinion, this is just an attempt to tie President Trump to the Russian collusion narrative. Establishing that President Trump was working with the Russian government as a candidate makes him look bad and makes his victory feel illegitimate. However, this effect is based on a lie. Working with the Russian government to get a hotel in Moscow does not amount to Russian meddling in our elections.
Of all of the charges against Cohen, this is probably the most threatening to President Trump. It shouldn’t be, though. Building a hotel in Moscow with the help of the Russian government is perfectly legal. That being said, those who already oppose President Trump will see this as further evidence of Russian interference in our elections or President Trump’s status as a Russian agent (or whatever other conspiracy theory the Russia-phobes adhere to nowadays).
If you’d like a more detailed account of Cohen’s crimes, click here.