the national interest

The Department of Justice Calls Donald Trump a Felon

President Trump. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal prosecutors released sentencing recommendations for two alleged criminals who worked closely with Donald Trump: his lawyer Michael Cohen, and campaign manager Paul Manafort. They are filled with damning details. But the most important passage by far is this, about Trump’s fixer: “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”

The payments in question, as the document explains, concern a payoff to two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump. The payments, according to prosecutors, were intended to influence the campaign, and thereby constituted violations of campaign finance law. They have not formally charged Trump with this crime — it is a sentencing report for Cohen, not Trump — but this is the U.S. Department of Justice calling Trump a criminal.

There is more. Under normal circumstances, the long list of charges federal prosecutors cited against Michael Cohen would be a political catastrophe for President Trump. One of the president’s closest associates turns out to have allegedly committed a long string of crimes, from tax evasion to making false statements to a financial institution, that would besmirch the good name of the man who worked at his side for years.

Of course Trump has no good name. But the fact that he is being called a felon by the United States government is a historic step. And it is likely the first of more to come.

Just as a recent sentencing report indicated that Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating substantially, prosecutors wrote today that Cohen is providing helpful information on other crimes. Cohen reportedly gave the special counsel “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during them.” And this contact continued into 2018. Cohen was not locked out and probably has access to some secrets.

The sentencing recommendation for Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, contains very little detail that isn’t redacted. It describes Manafort as having lied repeatedly about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, his business partner and Russian intelligence asset, and with the Trump administration. Trump has dismissed Manafort as a distant underling who worked for him only briefly, but the filing states Manafort’s contact with the administration continued into 2018. This does not prove anything, but it suggests Manafort’s guilt implicated people other than Manafort himself.

The special counsel sentencing recommendation for Cohen also reveals that Russian contact with the Trump campaign began as early as 2015, not the following spring. And Russians promised “political synergy” — which is essentially a synonym for campaign collusion — and “synergy on a government level.” That means a quid pro quo in which Russia would help Trump win the election and Trump, if elected, would give Russia favorable policy. This is the heart of Mueller’s very much ongoing investigation.

In the meantime, Trump’s own government has described him as a crook.

The Department of Justice Calls Donald Trump a Felon