It’s a realization that seems hard to digest: the sitting president of the United States financed an illegal cover-up. And yet, given the publicly available information, that allegation is very easy to believe.
Michael Cohen made an illegal hush-money payment on Donald Trump’s behalf; that payment broke federal campaign-finance laws; and the president reimbursed his former fixer with a series of checks. Federal prosecutors have already effectively labeled Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in the scheme.
Today, however, the New York Times advances the story a bit more. After having seen most of the 11 checks Trump to Cohen, the newspaper started lining up the dates with the presidential calendar.
At the heart of last week’s congressional testimony by Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, was the sensational accusation that the sitting president of the United States financed an illegal cover-up from inside the White House. The dates on the newly available checks shed light on the parallel lives Mr. Trump was living by this account – at once managing affairs of state while quietly paying the price of keeping his personal secrets out of the public eye. […]
The president hosted a foreign leader in the Oval Office, then wrote a check. He haggled over legislation, then wrote a check. He traveled abroad, then wrote a check. On the same day he reportedly pressured the F.B.I. director to drop an investigation into a former aide, the president’s trust issued a check to Mr. Cohen in furtherance of what federal prosecutors have called a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws at the direction of Mr. Trump.
There’s more than one angle to this. The documentary evidence, obviously, directly implicates the president in a criminal scheme. What’s more, it’s also clear that Trump lied to the public when he said he didn’t know anything about the payments.
But the Times’ report raises a related point about presidential distraction. On the one hand, Trump was overseeing the executive branch of the world’s preeminent superpower. On the other, he was simultaneously writing monthly checks to his fixer, reimbursing him for the hush-money scheme that was hatched to help get him elected.
Perhaps the most striking was the $35,000 check Trump signed on Aug. 1, 2017. That was the day after we learned that the president had dictated a deceptive statement about his team’s infamous pre-election Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives – ironically, implicating Trump in a different cover-up – and the same day White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders peddled a false version of events to reporters.
Also note, there may be more to this that we haven’t yet seen. The New York Times has now seen most of the checks to Cohen, but not all of them, which means there’s still more to learn.