the national interest

Trump Tries to Deny His Crime With Cohen, Confesses by Mistake

President Trump is not a lawyer. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed in open court to committing a crime at Trump’s direction. The crime is violating campaign finance law, by using Trump’s personal funds for a campaign-related expense (paying hush money to his mistresses).

The official White House defense of the president was on display from press secretary Sarah Sanders, who repeatedly told reporters Trump “did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.”

Neither of these statements answers the question of Trump’s criminal liability. “He did nothing wrong” simply changes the question from breaking the law to an undefined definition of “wrong” which may not overlap with the legal one. (The administration might not consider violating campaign finance law “wrong.”) The second portion – “there are no charges against him” — merely reflects the fact that sitting presidents can’t be indicted. Trump could, as they say, shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and Sanders could still say he has done nothing wrong and has not been charged with a crime.

Trump’s own defense, offered on Fox & Friends, is even more confused. Trump insisted he is in the clear because the payments “weren’t taken out of campaign finance … They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me.”

That is not a defense. That is why it’s a crime. If the money came from the campaign, it would have been legal.

Asked why Trump didn’t report his payments, Sanders simply said she wouldn’t “get into the back-and-forth details.” Definitely what your representative says when you’re innocent.