What happens if re-election is Trump’s best hope of avoiding an indictment?
Donald Trump — or, as he’s known to federal prosecutors, Individual-1 — might well be a criminal. That’s no longer just my opinion, or that of Democratic activists. It is the finding of Trump’s own Justice Department.
.. . The prosecutors argued that, in arranging payoffs to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, Cohen broke campaign finance laws, and in the process “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
.. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors wrote.
.. In other words, lawyers from the Justice Department have concluded that Trump may have committed a felony that went to the heart of the process that put him in office.
.. Trump’s potential criminality in this case, which raises questions about his legitimacy as president, creates a dilemma for Democrats. Assuming prosecutors are right about Trump’s conduct, it certainly seems impeachable; a situation in which a candidate cheats his way into the presidency is one the founders foresaw when they were designing the impeachment process. As George Mason argued at the Constitutional Convention, “Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”
.. But in our current moment, removing the president through impeachment is essentially impossible, given that at least 20 Senate Republicans would have to join Democrats. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who will soon lead the House Judiciary Committee, told me he wouldn’t consider impeachment proceedings without at least some Republican support.
.. Experts on both the left and the right believe that if Trump is voted out of office in 2020, before the five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance violations runs out, he could find himself in serious legal jeopardy.
.. The 2020 presidential election was always going to be extraordinarily ugly, but one can only imagine what Trump will do if the alternative to the White House is the big house. “It’s dangerous,” said Swalwell, who worries that Trump could become even more erratic, making decisions to save himself that involve “our troops or internal domestic security.”.. as long as Individual-1 is on the ticket, the 2020 election is set to be a banana republic-style death match. Trump will almost certainly try to criminalize his opponent — crowds at his rallies have taken to chanting “Lock her up” at the mention of virtually any Democratic woman’s name. And Democrats won’t be able to uphold the general principle that in American elections, losing doesn’t mean personal ruination, because for Trump it will and it should... There are ways to lower the stakes somewhat. Nadler told me he plans to introduce legislation that would freeze the statute of limitations for crimes committed by presidents, so they could be charged when their terms end. Such a law would at least mean that Trump couldn’t evade justice forever just by winning re-election... That would mitigate the peril to our democracy, but it wouldn’t come close to eliminating it. Our best hope may lie in the emergence of irrefutable evidence of further presidential crimes, enough to finally test the tolerance of at least some fraction of Republicans... After two years of hearing people say we were all trigger-happy on impeachment, now I’m hearing we’re all constitutional fraidy-cats. Give us a chance to do the fact investigation and figure out what happened.”.. But if the president has committed felonies, we also have to figure out how Republicans might be induced to care.