This seemed pretty obvious from yesterday’s court filings and Judge William Pauley’s decision to release all the materials from the investigation. Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow was high-fiving last night already. According to ABC, the Department of Justice has formally decided not to bring any charges at all from their probe into payoffs made to women alleging sexual affairs with Trump:
— ABC News (@ABC) July 18, 2019
Lanny Davis is furious over the decision:
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, however, expressed displeasure with prosecutors decision to drop the proceedings in his own statement issued Wednesday evening.
“Case closed? Why is Michael Cohen — after all his voluntary cooperation and testimony that Mr. Mueller said was credible and went to “core issues” and all the information and documents he voluntarily provided to prosecutors and to congress — the only member of the Trump company to be prosecuted and imprisoned?” Davis said in the statement. “Especially since prosecutors found that virtually all of Michael’s admitted crimes were done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald Trump? Why?”
Why? Come on, man. We can guess at two reasons the DoJ’s walking away from this. One: Michael Cohen would have to testify to substantiate any charges. Two: Michael Cohen is serving three years at Club Fed for perjury. Not too many prosecutors would go to criminal trial over campaign-finance violations with a convicted perjurer as the main witness in the case.
That’s not to say that investigators gave everyone a clean bill of health. The documents getting released this morning indicate that they suspected Hope Hicks of facilitating machinations to hide payoffs, which could have resulted in violations of campaign-finance law. They also suspected Trump of direct participation in those efforts:
The documents, released Thursday, describe a “series of calls, text messages, and emails” between Cohen, Trump, Trump campaign aide Hope Hicks, Keith Davidson — an attorney for the woman, porn star Stormy Daniels — and David Pecker, an executive of the company that published the National Enquirer.
“I have learned that in the days following the Access Hollywood video, Cohen exchanged a series of calls, text messages and emails with Keith Davidson, who was then Clifford’s attorney, David Pecker and Dylan Howard of American Media, Inc. (“AMI”), the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump, and Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign,” an FBI agent investigating the matter wrote in the released documents. “Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story,” the agent added. …
The unsealed documents say that Hicks called Cohen on the night of Oct. 8, 2016 at 7:20 p.m — the first time she had called him in weeks — and that Trump joined the call seconds later. The conversation lasted four minutes. Hicks and Cohen spoke privately after Trump left the call and, after that, Cohen called Pecker. Moments after that conversation ended, Cohen received a phone call from Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media. After that call, Cohen rang Hicks back, ended that call, and then took a call from Pecker. At 8:03 p.m., according to the unsealed court documents, Cohen called Trump. They spoke for eight minutes.
The FBI agent wrote in the document that the information was learned from a review of telephone records and under warrants to obtain Cohen’s emails.
In other words, shenanigans appear to have taken place, but … were they criminal shenanigans? Don’t forget that the DoJ has tried making a criminal case out of an FEC violation before with John Edwards, who also hid a mistress thanks to the generosity of one or more donors without declaring them as in-kind contributions. That failed spectacularly when the case went to trial, and Edwards is now living in quiet obscurity rather than in prison. They’re not likely to test out that legal theory again anytime soon, and certainly not with a sitting president and his aides, whether Cohen makes for an effective witness or not.
That’s likely why Pauley wanted the whole mess made public. Sure, no one would face criminal charges, but voters have the right to know what took place so they can factor it into their 2020 choices. Of course, voters had a pretty good idea of Donald Trump’s sexual morals in 2016 too, and decided they didn’t matter much. This is small potatoes and old news three years later, and by next year it will barely be a blip in the debate.
The worst that Team Trump can expect from this is another House investigation and a fine from the FEC, neither of which will impact Trump’s re-election campaign. As for Cohen’s fate, it serves as a reminder not to lie when under oath, even when it turns out that there’s no crime in the first place. Either tell the truth or shut the hell up and let Lanny Davis do your talking for you.