Even as his former personal attorney was sentenced to three years in prison, Donald Trump had very little to say yesterday, and his White House issued no formal statements in response to the developments. This morning, however, the president published a trio of tweets, offering his reaction to the news. (I’m adding the paragraph breaks in the hopes of making the message slightly more readable.)
“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.
“Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not guilty even on a civil basis.
“Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did-including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!”
Evidently, it took the president nearly a full day to come up with this.
There’s probably no point in scrutinizing every error of fact and judgment in the message, but there were two things that jumped out at me. The first is Trump’s continued insistence that the hush-money payoffs to his alleged former mistresses were “not campaign finance.”
The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Indeed, American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer tabloid, admitted it paid off one of Trump’s alleged former mistresses, “in concert with” the Trump campaign, in order to “suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
But perhaps even more interesting is the president’s assertion that his former fixer pleaded guilty to two “campaign charges which were not criminal.”
If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because Trump made a similar pitch in August, arguing that Cohen’s violations of campaign-finance law “are not a crime.”
Even by 2018 standards, this is odd. As a Washington Post analysis explained the last time the president tried this, “It’s a bit baffling that Trump would assert that criminal charges accepted by Cohen aren’t a crime. Perhaps he’s arguing that the alleged crimes didn’t occur or that prosecutors crafted their charges in a way to maximize Cohen’s exposure to legal risk. It’s not clear. It’s not true.”
I’m trying to imagine Trump’s perspective on this. Does he genuinely believe prosecutors charged Cohen; Cohen’s attorneys scrutinized the allegations; and Cohen agreed to plea guilty, and no one noticed that the allegations “were not criminal”?
Over the summer, one of Trump’s attorneys famously said, “Truth isn’t truth.” Now, this position has apparently evolved into “crimes aren’t crimes.”