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Michael Cohen filings renew discussion of Trump's impeachment

"The president was at the center of a massive fraud — several massive frauds against the American people," Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler said.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks towards reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before his departure for the annual Army-Navy college football game in Philadelphia on Saturday. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Democrats said Sunday that the latest court documents filed in regard to Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former longtime lawyer, have pushed the idea of impeachment further along — though they seek more information before making a determination on whether to actually pursue it.

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, likely the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is where such proceedings would begin, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the filings showed "the president was at the center of a massive fraud — several massive frauds against the American people."

Calling for Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller to "get to the bottom of this" and "find out the extent of the president's involvement," Nadler said what was detailed in the Cohen filings amount to "impeachable offenses."

"Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question," he added.

In court documents filed Friday by Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan, the president was essentially placed as a key figure in multiple federal investigations. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York put the weight of the government behind Cohen's earlier assertion in court that he paid off women to silence their allegations of affairs with Trump "in coordination with and at the direction of” the president.

In August, Cohen told a court that Trump directed him to pay off two women — who appeared to be adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in order to secure their silence just weeks before the 2016 election. Prosecutors said Cohen facilitated payments to both women.

On the other hand, Mueller wrote that Cohen provided his office with valuable information "concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.”

The special counsel wrote that Cohen in November 2015, acting as Trump's personal attorney and a top executive at the Trump Organization, was in communication with a prominent Russian national who sought political and business "synergy" with Trump's campaign.

Mueller's memo also says Cohen provided a detailed account of the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign. Trump insisted throughout the campaign he had no business connections with Russia. In defending the Trump Tower Moscow efforts last month, Trump told reporters he thought there was a good chance he would've lost the presidency "in which case I would have gone back into the business and why should I lose lots of opportunities?"

Both sets of filings were submitted to recommend sentencing for Cohen, who is due to be sentenced before a federal judge in New York this week. Federal prosecutors in New York recommended that Cohen serve a substantial prison term for his "extensive" criminal conduct.

The attorney pleaded guilty this year to felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign-finance violations, and making a false statement to Congress.

Soon after the memos were filed, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the court documents told "us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.” She added that Cohen "has repeatedly lied." Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also called Cohen a liar in an interview with NBC News, adding that Trump isn't worried about impeachment. Giuliani added that pursuing impeachment "would be political suicide for Democrats."

Trump, meanwhile, tweeted Friday that the filings "totally clears the President. Thank you!"

Nothing in either filing exonerated Trump, with the section involving Cohen's campaign-finance violations strongly suggesting Trump's involvement.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, likely the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the filings made it clear to him "there's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him — that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut did not go quite that far in his assessment, but the Democratic senator said the filings made it clear that the federal investigations "are beyond the stage that led to impeachment proceedings against President [Bill] Clinton, whether or not you think that was worthy of impeachment or not."

During an interview with ABC's "This Week," he called for Congress to wait until the completion of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before making a determination on moving forward with impeachment.

"But I would also counsel the special investigator to show his cards soon," Murphy said. "I mean, I think it's important for the special investigator to give Congress what he has sometime early in 2019 so that Congress can make a determination."

Other lawmakers were more conservative in their assessments. Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats, told NBC's "Meet the Press" he did not think that the latest filings warranted impeachment proceedings on their own.

King called impeachment "entirely different from criminal prosecution."

"My concern is that, if impeachment is moved forward on the evidence that we have now, at least a third of the country would think it was just political revenge and, and a coup against the president," King said. "That wouldn't serve us well at all. The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida echoed others in calling for all of the facts of the case to come out before any further determinations on the president's future are made. Nonetheless, the senator, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, added that "there's no way to spin this."

"This has not been a positive development for the people that are involved in this," Rubio told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

He added that "no one is more important than our country, no one is held above the law, everyone should also benefit from the presumptions the law has."

And on "Meet the Press," Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky downplayed the latest developments, questioning what is illegal about trying to build a hotel in Russia and suggesting that the country has "over-criminalized campaign finance."