Three days after federal prosecutors directly implicated Donald Trump in a felony, the president this morning published a tweet dismissing his hush-money payments to his former alleged mistresses as a "simple private transaction."
He didn't appear to be kidding.
But Trump isn't the only one struggling to downplay the significance of the controversy. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and made the argument to NBC News' Chuck Todd that campaign-finance violations occur because the rules are so darned complicated.
"There are thousands and thousands of rules. It's incredibly complicated, campaign finance. We have to decide whether or not really criminal penalties are the way we should approach criminal finance. I personally think that if someone makes an error in filing paperwork or in not categorizing a campaign contribution correctly, it shouldn't be jail time. It ought to be a fine."
Hmm. Donald Trump's personal attorney created a shell corporation to make a hush-money payment to a porn star, shortly before Election Day, and then everyone involved, including the president, lied about it.
According to the president, this was a "simple private transaction." According to Rand Paul, the rules are so "complicated," mishaps like these are bound to happen.
It's like "an error in filing paperwork." By the Kentucky Republican's reasoning, it's a minor miracle we don't see similar controversies all the time, with candidates' lawyers stumbling into creating shell corporations in secret to payoff mistresses with pre-election hush money.
For a very different argument, consider the court filing, released on Friday afternoon, from federal prosecutors in New York. In fact, if you haven't already, take a look at Rachel's segment on Friday, with the relevant portion starting around the 21:07 mark.
It's a tough thing to excerpt in a blog post, but this portion of the filing stood out for me:
"[Michael Cohen's] offenses strike at several pillars of our society and system of government: the payment of taxes; transparent and fair elections; and truthfulness before government and in business.... Cohen's commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency."While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election."
These are crimes, we now know, that Cohen was directed to commit by the sitting American president.
A "simple private transaction"? An "error in filing paperwork."