Le­gal clouds darken over Pres­i­dent

Trump hasn’t been charged, but hasn’t been cleared

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Julie Pace

WASH­ING­TON — The more that spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors re­veal, the darker grow the le­gal clouds over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Trump’s own Jus­tice De­part­ment has now im­pli­cated him in a crime, ac­cus­ing him of di­rect­ing il­le­gal hush-money pay­ments to women dur­ing his 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Mueller keeps find­ing new in­stances of Trump as­so­ciates ly­ing about their con­tacts with Rus­sia dur­ing an elec­tion the Krem­lin worked to sway in the Repub­li­can’s fa­vor.

The pres­i­dent hasn’t been charged

with any crimes. He may never be. Whether a pres­i­dent can be pros­e­cuted while in of­fice re­mains a mat­ter of le­gal dis­pute.

But Trump also hasn’t been cleared of wrong­do­ing. Each new le­gal fil­ing un­der­scores that the pres­i­dent is a cen­tral fig­ure in in­ves­ti­ga­tions that have brought down sev­eral who worked closely with him and re­main a threat to oth­ers in Trump’s or­bit.

Even if the pres­i­dent is never charged with il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, the months of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and le­gal wran­gling have cast a pall over his ad­min­is­tra­tion and ex­posed the cul­ture of ly­ing that has sur­rounded Trump,

both in and out of of­fice.

Trump’s moniker in some of the fil­ings:

“In­di­vid­ual-1.” Trump al­lies ar­gue that if Mueller had in­for­ma­tion that Trump broke the law, the spe­cial coun­sel would have made his case against him by now. To the pres­i­dent and his sup­port­ers, the fact that the spe­cial coun­sel has been work­ing for well over a year without mak­ing a di­rect ac­cu­sa­tion against Trump means the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is an ef­fort to dam­age the pres­i­dent po­lit­i­cally.

“AFTER TWO YEARS AND MIL­LIONS OF PAGES OF DOC­U­MENTS (and a cost of over

$30,000,000), NO COL­LU­SION!” Trump tweeted early Satur­day.

De­spite Trump’s dec­la­ra­tions,

Mueller hasn’t ruled out the prospect of elec­tion sea­son co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Moscow and the Trump cam­paign, and only re­cently re­ceived writ­ten an­swers from the pres­i­dent about pos­si­ble Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence. Mueller also is still pur­su­ing whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice while in of­fice.

Yet the most pre­car­i­ous le­gal sit­u­a­tion for Trump ap­pears to be sep­a­rate from Mueller’s in­quiry: an as­ser­tion by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in New York that Trump di­rected his former lawyer, Michael Co­hen, to make il­le­gal pay­ments dur­ing the cam­paign to si­lence women al­leg­ing ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who will over­see the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee next year, said that a new court fil­ing Fri­day “im­pli­cates the pres­i­dent very di­rectly” in a crime.

“It puts the is­sue squarely be­fore the Jus­tice De­part­ment whether a sit­ting pres­i­dent should be in­dicted or whether the Jus­tice De­part­ment has to wait un­til he’s out of of­fice,” Schiff said.

Fed­eral law re­quires that any pay­ments made “for the pur­poses of in­flu­enc­ing” an elec­tion must be re­ported in cam­paign fi­nance dis­clo­sures. The court fil­ing Fri­day makes clear that the pay­ments to porn ac­tress Stormy Daniels and Play­boy model Karen McDou­gal were made to ben­e­fit Trump po­lit­i­cally.

Trump’s only de­fense? Co­hen, he says, is a liar.

After go­ing pub­licly silent in the run-up to the midterm elec­tions, Mueller has roared back with a se­ries of le­gal moves that sug­gest he is ac­tively pur­su­ing the cen­tral ques­tion of whether Trump’s cam­paign il­le­gally co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia dur­ing the elec­tion.

In a fil­ing re­leased Fri­day, Mueller re­vealed that a Rus­sian na­tional claim­ing close ties to the Krem­lin reached out to Co­hen to pro­pose gov­ern­ment-level “po­lit­i­cal syn­ergy” dur­ing the elec­tion. The Novem­ber 2015 out­reach — which Mueller says Co­hen did not pur­sue — ap­pears to be the ear­li­est known ef­fort by Rus­sia to build ties with the Trump cam­paign.

Co­hen has ad­mit­ted to ly­ing to Congress about ef­forts by Trump’s real es­tate com­pany to build a project in Moscow as late as the sum­mer of 2016, after Trump be­came the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent.

Mueller has not al­leged that the pres­i­dent knew about these in­ter­ac­tions with Rus­sia. Even so, some Trump sup­port­ers now be­lieve the pres­i­dent is un­likely to emerge from the in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­scathed.

Alan Der­showitz, a Har­vard law pro­fes­sor and fre­quent de­fender of Trump, said Mueller ap­pears poised to is­sue a re­port that will be highly crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent, though Der­showitz be­lieves it will deal “more with po­lit­i­cal sin than a fed­eral crime.”

Of course, po­lit­i­cal sin could still put Trump in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion, now that Democrats are within weeks of tak­ing over the House. The new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity will have broad sub­poena power. Party lead­ers will be un­der pres­sure from some mem­bers to pur­sue im­peach­ment, if Mueller’s re­port makes di­rect ac­cu­sa­tions of the pres­i­dent.

Schiff, who will over­see some of the con­gres­sional probes into Trump, said the swirl of in­ves­ti­ga­tions “tests the propo­si­tion that no one is above the law.”

SAUL LOEB/GETTY-AFP

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller hasn’t ruled out the idea of elec­tion co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and Trump cam­paign.

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