Donald Trump has faced an avalanche of scandals over the last two years, but only a few run the risk of bringing his presidency to a premature end. The first, of course, is the investigation into whether Trump and his political operation conspired with Russia during its attack on the U.S. elections in 2016. The second deals with allegations of presidential obstruction of justice.
Recently, a relatively new avenue has created a level of crisis for the White House: federal prosecutors have directly implicated Trump in campaign-related felonies.
Rudy Giuliani talked to the Daily Beast yesterday, and instead of insisting that the president is innocent, the member of Trump’s legal defense team said the crimes weren’t especially important.
Trump insists he is innocent of any related crimes because he never explicitly asked for Cohen or AMI to violate campaign finance law by sitting on stories of his extra-marital affairs. And the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, contends that the scandal is overblown entirely.
“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed… This was not a big crime,” Giuliani told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. He added, sardonically, “I think in two weeks they’ll start with parking tickets that haven’t been paid.”
The former New York City mayor’s rhetoric is generally not to be taken seriously, but in this case, I think Giuliani touched on an argument we’re going to hear quite a bit in the coming months.
Indeed, some of the White House’s allies have already started walking down the same path. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) equated illegal hush-money payoffs to alleged mistresses with “an error in filing paperwork.”
The defense is taking shape. “Sure, Donald Trump and his team may have committed crimes,” the argument goes, “but they’re not, you know, crimes.”
And while I’m sure much of the Republican base will gladly play along – Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) this week said he simply didn’t care whether the president broke any laws, and it’s likely other Trump sycophants will agree – this is going to be an awfully tough sell with everyone else.
For one thing, the difference between pre-election hush-money payoffs to porn stars and, say, unpaid parking tickets is that the former refers to felonies and the latter refers to misdemeanors. When Republicans argue that it’s no big deal when a president commits felonies, they’re on inherently weak ground.
For another, Trump and his allies haven’t exactly positioned themselves well for this fight. Giuliani said yesterday that the president’s crimes weren’t “big” because no one was killed or robbed. Well, as it turns out, no one was killed or robbed by Hillary Clinton’s email server, either, but Trump, Giuliani, and a whole lot of their allies continue to argue that the former secretary of state should be imprisoned for her misstep anyway.
And finally, there’s the simple matter that the president likes to at least pretend to be a champion of the “law and order” principle. A president and his operation can either defend that principle or they can argue that certain felonies aren’t “big” crimes, so it’s not too important when those laws or violated.
But when they try to maintain both postures simultaneously, there’s a problem.