All political hell broke loose Tuesday evening, as President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, were both convicted of fraud in federal court.
Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of lying to a financial institution, and—most importantly—two counts related to making illegal campaign contributions, telling the court that in 2016, he had paid Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep quiet about trysts with "a candidate" and this candidate later reimbursed Cohen. (See Cohen's plea agreement here.)
Some suggest the dirt buried by Cohen's hush money may have swung votes in the 2016 election—that the president romping about with sex workers while his wife was at home pregnant or caring for a newborn may have been the proverbial bridge too far for certain evangelical conservative voters. "The money spent to silence these women had a bigger impact than anything Russia spent on Facebook," suggests Federalist publisher Ben Domenech on Twitter.
The year is 2067. A gray-haired old woman gathers 'round her grandkids for story time, cackling and slapping her knee as she nears the end: "And that, children, is how sex workers took down a sitting president" https://t.co/TNRxge1HAj
— Mary Emily O'Hara (@MaryEmilyOHara) August 21, 2018
"Even if the payment had been totally legal, it would've constituted a deliberate, immoral, classically politician-like effort to mislead voters about the choice before them," writes Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic.
"Trump's infidelities were obviously well-known but it's not crazy to think the particular egregiousness of this one might've moved a small % of voters," tweets journalist Michael Tracey.
Even Cohen's lawyer is now calling for Trump's head:
Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?
— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) August 21, 2018
But a few folks have been challenging the dominant Cohen narrative from a non-#MAGA position, suggesting that as much as some may want the Cohen plea to mean Trump and his team are uniquely guilty, it doesn't.
"It's impossible to do high-level politics or business w/o committing technical criminal violations," tweets Clark Niely, vice president at the Cato Institute, in response to Friedersdorf's article. "Upon reaching a certain level in those circles, you get a tacit free pass to commit a fairly broad range of non-violent crimes." And "that free pass is revocable but rarely revoked—because mutually assured destruction." Read Niely's whole thread here. "FWIW, I'm utterly underwhelmed by the Cohen [charges]," he concludes.
Indeed, I assume DOJ could get nearly every high-ranking campaign official/fixer to cop a plea similar to Cohen's—ticky-tacky campaign finance violations, seriously? ALL campaigns commit them. Every. Single. One.
It's possible, however, that we're just getting started on the Cohen admissions…
Cohen's lawyer raises possibility that Trump knew in advance about the criminal Russian hacking of Democrats during the 2016 election https://t.co/t7AnORVJ6j
— Garance Franke-Ruta (@thegarance) August 22, 2018
Staff at the National Enquirer are also coming under federal fire for their role in suppressing the sex stories, notes Justin Miller at The Daily Beast.
Here's what Trump, ever the grownup, had to say:
If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Meanwhile, a jury convicted Manafort of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Unlike with Cohen, Manafort's legal woes are independent of his work for Donald Trump and his campaign. This allowed Trump and his cheerleaders to focus on Manafort when asked questions yesterday, and it may work to their advantage in spinning all of this as things that don't implicate Trump.
Of course, Trump had every reason to know damn well that Manafort was a snake when he took him in, to borrow one of the president's favorite parables. When Manfort offered to do pro bono work for the Trump campaign, Manfort's sketchy dealings were already very well-known. (I remember talking to a senior person on the Trump campaign who was furious when Manafort was brought onboad. When I asked what made Manafort bad, he didn't know where to begin.)
As Scott Shackford wrote here last night:
Manafort is one of many, many folks with troubled backgrounds and histories of bad behavior who have worked with Trump and influenced his policy leanings….Those of us who care little about the highly politicized fight over "collusion," or who take a dim view of the absurd idea that Russian social media buys made people vote for Trump, should still recognize that Manafort representats a much more dangerous problem: Trump's terrible judgement….No amount of "Deep State" conspiracy complaints and screams of "Witch Hunt" can erase the reality that the former head of his campaign was financially beholden to a foreign power.
A new fight over paid parental leave is heating up, this time pitting libertarians and Republicans against each other. On the latter side, Marco Rubio and others are proposing a tweak to Social Security that would let people use some of their alleged future benefits upon the birth or adoption of a child. They have been framing this an alternative to more invasive proposals seeking to mandate paid leave for new parents—which, yes, obviously.
But that doesn't necessarily make it a fiscally prudent policy, folks like Cato Institute analyst Vanessa Brown Calder and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy have been warning. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board also weighed in against Rubio and co.'s proposal. "Republicans should consider the consequences before signing up for a major expansion of the entitlement state," the Journal said. More here.
6 reasons to support our #PaidFamilyLeave bill:
1. Doesn't expand government
2. Doesn't add new taxes
3. Doesn't place mandates on business
4. Doesn't create a new entitlement
5. Doesn't crowd out existing benefits
6. DOES help new parents stay in workforce https://t.co/D66hTk3Tbx
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 2, 2018
- Actress Asia Argento denies allegations published about her in The New York Times earlier this week:
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 21, 2018
- Why is the Department of Housing and Urban Development going after Facebook?
- Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and his wife were indicted yesterday for allegedly using campaign money for personal expenses, including dental work, video games, tequila shots, and travel.
One of the Hunters' purchases was a ring pop at the Santee Target. pic.twitter.com/OMH3revEI9
— Sara Libby (@SaraLibby) August 21, 2018