On Friday, prosecutors for the Southern District of New York filed a sentencing memo for Michael Cohen. In recommending a “substantial” prison term for the president’s former lawyer-fixer, the SDNY wrote that Trump directed Cohen to make pre-election hush money payments to two women that constitute felony campaign finance violations. This is a big deal, and some believe Trump could be in danger of landing in prison once he leaves office. Trump has responded by blaming Democrats and alleging that the payments were “simple private transactions.” This in no way exonerates the president, but that hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers from rushing to his defense. Some have feigned ignorance, while others have gone so far as to argue that federal crimes aren’t really that big of a deal, you know, when you really think about it.
The worst offender may have been Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has responded to the gradual implosion of democracy in part by tweeting slow-motion bacon videos and jokes about corn pizza. Like the president, Hatch first blamed the Democrats. When he was corrected, he said that he “doesn’t care” about Trump’s crimes, and that he is “doing a good job as president.” The longest-tenured Senate Republican didn’t stop there, arguing that “you can make anything a crime under the current laws” and that what Trump did before he took office is immaterial.
Hatch also told me: “President Trump before he became president that’s another world. Since he’s become president this economy has charged ahead. … And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 10, 2018
In 1999, Hatch wrote that “crimes of moral turpitude such as perjury and obstruction of justice go to the heart of qualification for public office” while arguing that President Clinton should be removed from office for perjury and obstructing justice.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also argued that campaign finance violations can be pretty frivolous, as far as felonies go. “If [Rep. Adam] Schiff is taking this beyond to go forward and say there is an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem, there are a lot of members in Congress who would have to leave for that same place.”
House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy states that if campaign finance crimes are a violation then lots of Congressmen (probably in his caucus) will have to go.pic.twitter.com/LQw3G9zM8w
— Grant Stern (@grantstern) December 10, 2018
In the same interview, McCarthy said that congressional Democrats shouldn’t bother investigating Trump. “I think America is too great of a nation to have such a small agenda,” he said. “I think there are other problems out there that we should be focused upon. Let’s see where we can work together. Let’s move America forward. We’ve investigated this for a long time.” McCarthy didn’t feel like America was “too great” for House Republicans to investigate Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attack, though. In 2015, he even told Fox News that the investigation was part of a conservative “strategy” to hurt the public’s opinion of Clinton. “We put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” he explained. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
Hatch and McCarthy weren’t the only members of the party of “Law & Order” in dismissing the Justice Department’s contention that the president directed a felony. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John Kennedy (R-LA) shrugged while pointing to Michael Cohen’s history of deception. “As long as Cohen’s a liar I shouldn’t give much credibility to what he says,” Grassley told reporters, adding that prosecutors “got their information from a liar.” Kennedy — who in September dramatically stared down Brett Kavanaugh and asked him if he believes in God as a way to prove he didn’t sexually assault Christine Blasey Ford — was at least kind enough to acknowledge that Cohen is a child of Jesus.
Sen Kennedy: "Do I support violations of the campaign finance act if that indeed happened? Of course not. But the President says it was a private transaction, and it would appear to me that the only evidence is coming from Mister Cohen, who's credibility can be questioned. Duh."
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) December 11, 2018
But no one is more aware of Cohen’s mendacity than his prosecutors, who charged him with an array of deception-based financial crimes and last week recommended he serve a “substantial term of imprisonment” for misleading investigators. Despite the SDNY very much being aware that Cohen is a known liar, the office still found his claim that Trump directed him to make pre-election hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to be credible. It also found that those payments were made with the intention of influencing the election. The semantics around whether the payments were “private transactions” are irrelevant. If “private transactions” are made by someone running for president with the intention of defrauding voters, they still constitute a crime, regardless of what the delusional geriatric who committed those crimes tweets in defense of himself.
It’s hard to say exactly why the SDNY is so confident that Trump directed the payments and that they were made with the intention of influencing the election. It may have something to do with the fact that audio has been released of Trump and Cohen conspiring to make said payments, a rather significant development the GOP seems to have forgotten.