President Donald Trump has reportedly spoken to some of his closest friends about his concern of impeachment, while his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has sat down for an interview with Good Morning America.
Despite Trump publicly stating that he isn’t concerned about being impeached, he has reportedly told allies in his closest circle that he is alarmed by the possibility.
‘The entire question about whether the president committed an impeachable offense now hinges on the testimony of two men: (National Enquirer boss) David Pecker and Allen Weisselberg, both cooperating witnesses in the SDNY investigation,’ a friend of Trump’s told NBC News.
Weisselberg is the chief financial officer for the Trump organization who was allegedly in the center of the hush money operation, according to NBC. He was granted immunity for his testimony. Pecker was also granted immunity as part of prosecutors’ probe.
Meanwhile, Cohen sat down for an interview with George Stephanopoulos which will air on ABC on Friday morning. According Stephanopoulos’ tweet Cohen will discuss his ‘sentencing and President Trump’.
On Thursday, the president was revealed to be the third man who attended a 2015 meeting with Cohen and Pecker where they forged a plan to keep Trump’s alleged affairs out of the press.
The meeting, which was referenced in a letter federal prosecutors sent to National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc, included an offer by company CEO to ‘help deal with negative stories about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women’.
With Trump identified as having been there, it means he was present when a plan was developed that ultimately led to Cohen pleading guilty to a felony and getting three years in jail.
It also led to Pecker’s cooperation agreement by AMI with prosecutors not to be prosecuted ‘for any crimes’ related to campaign finance law resulting from the meeting.
Trump, therefore, is now the only person in the room who claims that the hush money wasn’t used to impact the outcome of the election.
US attorneys in the Southern District of New York announced the deal with American Media Inc shortly after a judge in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to three years in jail.
Cohen was involved in discussions with Pecker – who had been one of Trump’s closest friends – over the $150,000 payment that went to McDougal.
The documents revealing the deal make clear that Pecker agreed to flip – and is still cooperating with federal authorities.
They do not say who he and his company flipped on, raising the possibility that he has handed over information on his former friend, Trump.
The news comes amid a spike in talk in Washington about the possibility that the president could be charged with directing a federal crime, even if it is ultimately held that he is immune from such charges due to his office and the Justice Department’s prior interpretation of the Constitution that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, only impeached.
After the bombshell development, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suddenly turned up to brief reporters and claimed when asked if Trump was worried about Pecker flipping: ‘Not at all.’
Sanders added: ‘The president was clear that he directed no one to do anything wrong, particularly Michael Cohen. He’s been clear on this.’
But the revelation threatened to create more turmoil in the White House and for Trump’s legal team.
The plan the three reached included an agreement to help the campaign ‘identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided’.
At the meeting, ‘Pecker agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories,’ according to the letter.
NBC confirmed Trump’s attendance a day after prosecutors referenced it in the letter – which revealed that AMI, like Cohen, was cooperating with the government.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Trump was involved in or briefed on ‘nearly every step’ of the agreements.
And so-called ‘catch and kill’ agreements did emerge over the course of the campaign.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign and banking violations after he created a shell company to transfer $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump.
AMI gave $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had a 10-month affair with the president.
That could leave Trump as the odd man out if he continues his denials that he did nothing wrong and never ‘directed’ Cohen to break the law.
DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel determined during the Nixon Administration that a sitting president could not be indicted, although its position has not been tested in court.
Amid the swirling developments of the week, one powerful Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, is calling for that interpretation to change.
Although the founders included impeachment in the constitution as a political remedy, critics of the status quo have argued they never intended to give the executive a ‘free pass’ for crimes just by holding office, including alleged crimes that helped a president obtain the White House.
‘I think the Justice Department needs to re-examine that OLC opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that you cannot indict a sitting president under circumstances in which the failure to do so may mean that person escapes justice,’ Schiff told CNN on Wednesday, hours after Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other matters.
Meanwhile, impeachment – a subject Democratic leaders sought to tamp down before the elections – continues to hover over the courtroom developments.
If it is determined that the Justice Department can’t or won’t charge Trump, even with a recommendation from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it would then fall to House Democrats to begin the process that can result in the president’s removal from office.
Adding to the pressure on Democrats will be the statute of limitations on potential campaign finance crimes. That could allow Trump to avoid facing charges by winning election to a second term – even as his subordinate Cohen cools his heels in jail well past the time Trump would again take the oath of office.
Former Acting Solicitor General under President Barack Obama, Neal Katyal, wrote Wednesday on Twitter that existing special counsel regulations ‘put thumb on scale of Mueller asking Acting AG to indict, as that is the one way Mueller can be sure info he has uncovered in his investigation is provided to Congress. EVEN if Mueller thinks AG would say no, he may need to ask’.
Despite the current regulations, Mueller could ask the Justice Department to allow for a waiver to indict, according to Katyal.
If the official overseeing the Russia probe refuses, Mueller would be required to report it to Congress – which would then have that information as it considered any impeachment proceedings.
It is not entirely clear who is even overseeing the probe who would make that call.
Trump installed loyalist Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, but Justice has refused media requests for information on whether Whitaker received an ethics review of any potential conflicts, following a slew of comments critical of the Mueller investigation.
If he weren’t in an oversight role, it could be Deputy Attorney Gen Rod Rosenstein who would make the call.
Trump ‘and his Republican supporters do not appreciate what legal analysts do: that the president is in serious legal jeopardy and it is mounting,’ wrote former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti in Politico.
Trump distanced himself from the $150,000 payment Thursday in an interview with Fox News.
‘Let me just tell you about that tabloid I don’t think – and I have to go check – I don’t think they even paid any money to that tabloid. Okay?’ Trump told the network in an interview.
Prosecutors said ‘at no time’ did AMI intend to publish the story it was buying.
Cohen in August and September 2016 called Pecker and said he wanted to purchase the ‘limited life rights’ to the story, and Pecker agreed to provide the rights in exchange for $125,000.
Pecker signed the agreement on September 30, 2016, but in October 2016 – a month before the election – Pecker called Cohen and said the deal was off.
He told Cohen to ‘tear up the assignment agreement,’ according to prosecutors.
The ‘principal purpose’ of the deal was ‘to suppress the model’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election’ according to a government ‘Statement of Admitted Facts’ included in the letter to AMI.
In a statement, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District said it agreed not to prosecute AMI after the company admitted ‘that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election’.
Representatives for AMI and Pecker could not be immediately reached for comment.
Federal prosecutors in New York are also examining whether Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the $107million it raised.
The investigation is looking into whether some of the top donors to Trump’s crowning event gave money in exchange for access to his administration, policy concessions or to influence the administration, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Money in exchange for political favors could violate federal corruption laws.
There could also be a violation of federal law if funds were diverted from the inaugural committee, which was registered as a nonprofit.
‘That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,’ White House press secretary Sanders said Thursday night.
‘The biggest thing the president did in his engagement for the inauguration was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The president was focused on the transition during that time and not on any of the planning.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Valerie Edwards and Geoff Earle