Editor’s Note: Joey Jackson is a criminal defense attorney and a legal analyst for CNN and HLN. The views expressed here are solely his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
A week that began with bad news closed with worse news for President Donald Trump. According to the New York Times, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is currently investigating the Trump Organization. In particular, they are examining the source of the payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, and whether any laws were violated in the payout or reimbursement of Michael Cohen, who paid Daniels the $130,000 in question to buy her silence.
Earlier this week, in a Virginia courtroom, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted on eight felonies relating to fraud. Shockingly, the President’s response to Manfort’s conviction was to call him a “brave man” for whom he feels very “sad.”
Making matters worse, Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time fixer, also pleaded guilty to eight felonies in connection with fraud. In doing so, he explained to the judge during his plea, that he acted “in coordination and at the direction of” the President when he broke campaign finance laws. Following these shattering events, the President immediately began to gin up the spin. He tweeted his support of Manafort, and attacked Cohen, sending signals that he values and rewards loyalty.
All of this, as Congressional Republicans have not even hinted that they will investigate Cohen’s claims regarding Trump’s actions. In fact, their silence is deafening as they continue to blindly support the President.
In the event that charges result in Manhattan from this investigation, two significant issues would be critical. One, whether any executives of the Trump Organization have incriminating information against Trump himself – especially what, if anything, he knew about the payments. And two, whether these individuals would divulge this incriminating information – especially considering the fact that the President has no authority to grant pardons for state crimes.
No matter how you spin it, this is terrible news for the President.
It’s made worse by the additional news that Trump’s money man, Allen Weisselberg, is being offered full immunity to tell federal prosecutors everything he knows about the organization’s financial transactions. To be clear, what this means is that he may tell all without fear of prosecution or any legal reprisals. All he has to do is tell the truth. Even if he facilitated, participated in, or otherwise aided any crimes, he would not be charged. In short, immunity is the ultimate inducement as it relates to spilling all the beans about any fraud, illegality or underhanded dealings – if there are any such beans.
And while we don’t know what Weisselberg will say, we certainly do know that there is little, if anything, he doesn’t know about Trump’s finances, taxes and business deals. And if what Weisselberg does know incriminates the President, that’s yet another hole in Trump’s well-worn body armor.
And if all of this wasn’t bad enough for Mr. Trump, enter David Pecker, the publisher of the National Inquirer. He just made a deal with federal prosecutors to be granted full immunity.
His publication buried the stories relating to Trump’s dalliances with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniel, and the resulting payoffs. Cohen admitted to making these payments for election-related purposes with Trump’s knowledge and at his direction. That wouldn’t ordinarily be an issue, but for those payoffs occurring in such close proximity to the 2016 presidential election. Accordingly, they run smack in the face of federal election laws.
Pecker now may share anything’s he knows about these payments with federal authorities without fear or threat or prosecution.
If the Trump Organization investigation or Weisselberg’s immunity deal – end up implicating Trump, it would no longer be politically tenable for Republicans in Congress to protect this President. Imagine then, if the Pecker immunity deal also bears fruit. Then, Republicans would virtually be compelled to act, particularly in an election year.
And if the Democrats take control of the House during the midterms, thereby earning a majority of votes, they would potentially be in a position to impeach him. That would then kick the case over to the Senate for a trial. And while getting 67 senators to vote to remove Trump would be a heavy (some say impossible) lift, the President’s own conduct (past, present and future) could tip the scale significantly.
Given the legal landscape Trump finds himself in these days, the question may not be “if” the President will be impeached or leave office under some other circumstances. Instead, the question may be “when.” Trump’s day of reckoning may well be close at hand.