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Michael Cohen Is Now in Jail. Will Trump Join Him After He Leaves Office?

Hundreds of former federal prosecutors have signed a statement arguing the president would have been indicted for obstruction of justice were he not protected by the office

Kevin Hagen/AP/Shutterstock; Alex Brandon/AP/Shutterstock

Despite his best efforts, Michael Cohen reported to prison on Monday. The former personal attorney and “fixer” for President Trump will serve three years for a host of crimes, most notably violations of federal campaign finance law stemming from pre-election hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, both of whom allegedly had affairs with Trump.

“I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends, that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country,” he told reporters before departing for Otisville, New York, where he will be held. “There still remains much to be told, and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.”

Cohen’s quasi-righteous appeal for the nation to heal itself is nothing new. Since he began cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Cohen has painted himself as a victim of Trump’s charm who actually, in fact, as it so happens, is opposed to everything the president stands for. While testifying before the House Oversight Committee in February, he labeled Trump a “racist,’ a “conman” and a “cheat” who essentially swindled him into carrying out his misdeeds for a decade. Take it for what you will.

His claim that “there still remains much to be told” is also nothing new. Last month, Cohen’s attorneys sent a letter to congressional Democrats saying that their client had just discovered a new “trove” of documents that could assist ongoing investigations into the president. Cohen’s prison sentence would need to be “substantially postponed,” however, so that he could sort though the new documents and pick out what could be helpful to Democrats. They didn’t bite, but that doesn’t mean the book has been closed on Trump being held accountable for his alleged role in Cohen’s crimes.

In August, when he pleaded guilty to what Judge William Pauley would later described as “a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,” Cohen revealed that the pre-election hush money payments were made “at direction of the candidate,” meaning Trump. In his sentencing documents, which were released in December, the Southern District of New York also contended that, based on their investigation, Trump “directed” the payments. If that wasn’t enough, the SDNY went on to note that American Media, Inc., the Trump-friendly parent company of the National Enquirer, admitted they paid McDougal for the rights to her story “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.”

The evidence is overwhelming that Trump was complicit in the hush money payments, which, despite what the president and his lawyers have argued, constitute violations of federal law. (Just ask Cohen, who is serving time for them.) The primary reason Trump isn’t behind bars with his former lapdog is that he’s the president of the United States, which affords certain protections from legal ramifications.

But what about when Trump ceases being the president?

“My takeaway is that there is a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said after Cohen’s sentencing documents were released in December. “He may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time. We have been discussing the issue of pardons the president may offer to people or dangle in front of people. The real pardon question may come down the road as the next president may have to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.”

The release of the redacted Mueller report last month only heightens the possibility that Trump could find himself in legal jeopardy after he exits the White House. In the report, Mueller wrote that he declined to indict Trump for obstruction of justice at least in part because of the Justice Department’s guidelines that a sitting president cannot be charged. The special counsel also made a point to note that the president does “not have immunity after he leaves office,” even if he is forced out of office through impeachment. “A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office,” he wrote.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that more than 370 (!) former federal prosecutors who worked in both Republican and Democrat administrations have signed a statement arguing that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice were he not the president. “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” they wrote.

Though Trump’s alleged crimes are obvious, working in his favor is the five-year statute of limitations for campaign finance and obstruction of justice charges, meaning he’ll be in the clear if he wins reelection next November. If he loses, he’ll be just as open to legal jeopardy as Cohen.

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