Illegal payments to influence the election are grounds for impeachment

President Trump has been directly implicated—by his own personal lawyer—in a criminal conspiracy to illegally influence the election. This justifies an impeachment investigation.

Facts

On August 21, 2018, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges. Two of those charges stem directly from criminal actions that he took at the direction of then-candidate Trump in connection with Trump presidential campaign. 

Hush payment to suppress Trump’s affair with Karen McDougal

As set forth in the criminal information and in Cohen’s plea allocution, Cohen arranged for American Media Inc. (AMI) to acquire the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, one of Trump’s former mistresses, about her 2006-07 extramarital affair with Trump. In August 2016, AMI and McDougal executed an agreement in which AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story, with the purpose understood by all involved of suppressing the story so as to prevent it from influencing the election. Cohen then negotiated an agreement with AMI in which he would buy AMI’s rights to enforce the nondisclosure portion of its agreement with McDougal for $125,000. This agreement was signed by both parties, but never consummated.

As Cohen explained in his plea allocution, “I participated in this conduct . . . for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” Under 52 U.S.C. § 30118(a), and as explained in further detail in Free Speech For People’s February 2018 complaint to the Federal Election Commission against American Media Inc. and the Trump campaign, it is illegal for a corporation to make a contribution to a candidate or candidate’s committee. Cohen pleaded guilty to Count 7, which charged that he caused a corporation (American Media Inc.) to make an unlawful campaign contribution.

Hush payment to suppress Trump’s affair with Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels)

In late October 2016, as Election Day neared, Cohen negotiated a similar hush agreement with Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Under the agreement, on October 27, 2016, Clifford received $130,000 from Essential Consultants LLC, a limited liability company that Cohen set up for the occasion, in exchange for keeping quiet about her 2006 extramarital sexual encounter with Trump.

Even before Cohen’s plea, Trump’s criminal defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani had already confirmed that the purpose of this $130,000 payment was to influence the election. In Giuliani’s words, “Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton.” Under 52 U.S.C. § 30116, contributions (including in-kind contributions) to federal candidates may not exceed $2,700. Cohen pleaded guilty to Count 8, which charged that Cohen made an in-kind contribution exceeding the federal limit by making and causing to be made an expenditure, in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members of the campaign.

Trump’s role in the payments and in the cover-up

In his plea allocution, Cohen told the judge that he had arranged both of the illegal hush payments “in coordination with and at the direction of” Donald Trump. (Technically, he said that he did so “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” but that candidate could only be Trump. Similarly, the criminal information makes a faint-hearted effort at anonymizing Trump, as it refers to “Individual-1, who [by January 2017] had become the President of the United States.”)

The Cohen plea agreement and charge, along with other publicly available evidence of the president’s false statements, demonstrate that the conspiracy continued through at least May 2018, as the president’s company (the Trump Organization) reimbursed Cohen, and the co-conspirators—including Trump—attempted to conceal and cover up the unlawful payment scheme.  In January 2017, Cohen submitted a claim for reimbursement to the Trump Organization, seeking reimbursement for the $130,000 that he had paid Clifford, as well as a $35 wire fee and $50,000 in unspecified “tech services” for campaign-related technology work, for $180,035 in total. Two executives of the Trump Organization fraudulently booked the company’s reimbursement of Cohen as payment for legal services, rather than reimbursement for expenses paid, and they “grossed up” his $180,035 claim to $360,000 so that he would receive the full $180,035 (if not more) after his personal income taxes were deducted. The Trump Organization also added a $60,000 “bonus”—likely payment for Cohen’s services, though services as a “fixer” rather than a lawyer—bringing the total to $420,000. Finally, rather than a single reimbursement payment, the $420,000 was misleadingly paid in 12 monthly installments of $35,000 each, for which Cohen submitted fraudulent invoices for “legal services.” Each month, Cohen sent an invoice for $35,000 stating, “Pursuant to the retainer agreement, kindly remit payment for services rendered” in that month, even though there was no retainer agreement and he had provided no legal services to the company.

Over the course of 2018, Trump and Cohen, both directly and through agents, worked to suppress the story of the payment to Clifford via false or misleading public statements. On February 13, 2018, Cohen falsely told the New York Times that he had used his own personal funds to pay Clifford, and that “[n]either the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.” In April 2018, Trump first falsely denied knowing about the payment, then acknowledged that Cohen represented him in connection with Clifford. On May 2, 2018, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s criminal defense lawyer, told the media that Trump had reimbursed Cohen as a “retainer” paid from Trump’s “personal family account.” The next day, Trump tweeted, falsely, that “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties.”

Why this is an impeachable offense

In his 1974 classic Impeachment: A Handbook, Professor Charles Black examined the question of when campaign tactics may rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and concluded: “Congress could do much more than it has done to make clear what the rules are to be.” Congress did, shortly thereafter, “make clear what the rules are to be”—it passed the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, the very statute that Donald Trump directed Cohen to violate.

Of course, not every violation of campaign finance law is an impeachable offense. But these violations certainly rise to that level. The president’s personal lawyer has admitted to a criminal conspiracy involving himself, Donald Trump, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization and its executives, and others, continuing from the summer of the 2016 election through at least the first year of the presidency, to illegally influence the election and to cover up the violations. As explained in more detail in chapter 2 of our book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, for purposes of criminal law, Trump’s involvement could be framed for criminal law purposes as conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, conspiracy to defraud the United States by concealing illegal campaign contributions (both during the campaign and after), aiding and abetting, accessory after the fact, misprision of felony, obstruction of justice, and/or perjury (because his June 2017 financial disclosure form, sworn under penalty of perjury and covering a 16-month period that spanned the election, did not list any debt to Michael Cohen). But for impeachment purposes, these technical distinctions are unnecessary—the key point is that Trump directed Cohen to commit crimes and then covered it up.

As also noted in chapter 2 of the book, the Framers understood that election misconduct could be an impeachable offense even if it occurred before the individual became president. In the constitutional debates over the impeachment power, George Mason asked rhetorically: “Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?” Mason was talking about a president who corrupted the electors of the Electoral College, but the same concern applies to other forms of corrupt campaign tactics. Furthermore, Mason’s question illustrates the point that while impeachment usually focuses on conduct that occurs in office, impeachment can also address corruptly obtaining the office in the first place. For example, in 2010, Judge Thomas Porteous was impeached and convicted for conduct, much of which occurred before he assumed federal office—including making false statements to the Senate and FBI in connection with his nomination and confirmation.

But even if there were any remaining doubt about the impeachability of these pre-inauguration crimes, the fact that Trump continued to participate in a cover-up after he became president resolves any questions. The criminal information against Cohen does not disclose whether Trump personally directed or knew all the details of this effort to conceal the payment in this precise manner, but even if he did not, criminal conspiracy does not require that every conspirator knows all of the details.

Conclusion

These are serious violations, and Cohen’s statement that Trump directed him to make these payments is a stunning admission. The personal lawyer to the president of the United States has stated in open court that the president directed him to violate federal law by making illegal campaign payments for the purpose of helping Trump win the 2016 presidential election. That is a ground for impeachment. And while the House Judiciary Committee might wish to develop additional facts in its hearings, there is more than enough factual evidence to start those hearings now.

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For more information on our book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, click here.


Cohen’s Guilty Plea to Eight Criminal Charges

Free Speech For People issued today a statement in response to the personal attorney to Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty on eight criminal charges. These charges include violations of the Federal Campaign Finance Act for hush money payments made at the request of Donald Trump for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.

Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges. Two of those charges were violations of federal campaign finance law, including one related to causing an illegal corporate contribution, which was the subject of a complaint to the Federal Election Commission by Free Speech For People.  And critically, confirming allegations made earlier by Free Speech for People, Cohen admitted that he made these payments to influence a federal election “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office” that can only be Donald Trump.

As summarized in our new book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, these are serious violations, and Cohen’s statement that Trump directed him to make these payments is a stunning admission. The personal lawyer to the president of the United States has stated in open court that the president directed him to violate federal law for the purpose of helping him to win the 2016 presidential election.

Our original complaintto the Federal Elections Commission was filed on February 16, 2018.  Our amended complaintwas filed on July 25, 2018.

Click hereto download our press release on Michael Cohen pleading guilty to criminal charges.


In the News: Our New Book, ‘The Constitution Demands It’

Our new book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, was released Tuesday, August 14th. You can purchase the book now here.

The book was written by Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein, Co-Founder and President John Bonifaz, and Chair of the Board of Directors Ben Clements, with a foreword by The Nation’s national affairs correspondent John Nichols, and argues that the time for impeachment is now.

Our book is already making waves in the media – check out some of the coverage below! You can view the things people are saying and hear interviews with the book’s authors at the following links:

Join the movement calling on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings and pick up your copy of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump today!


Newsweek: The Constitution Demands It

Jessica Kwong of Newsweek discusses our new book, The Constitution Demands It, and the case for beginning impeachment proceedings against the President.

Congress, which has the authority to begin impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump has been reluctant to act, awaiting the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation, among other things.

But in a new book, three veteran constitutional lawyers argue that the framers of the Constitution provided impeachment as a remedy in anticipation of a leader like Trump, and that he’s committed enough offenses for removal proceedings to begin immediately.

The framers of the Constitution “were obsessed with corruption,” and “to defend against this ever-present danger, they built bulwarks into the Constitution itself,” the book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, set for release Tuesday, says.

“President Donald Trump has been violating the Constitution since the moment he took the oath of office—and since then, the corruption, abuse of power, and abuse of public trust have only gotten worse,” the authors Ron Fein, John Bonifaz and Ben Clements write.

Click here to read the full article in Newsweek.

Click here to pre-order your copy of The Constitution Demands It! 


Alyssa Milano: Join me in demanding impeachment proceedings against Trump

Alyssa Milano, actress and activist, penned a letter to our supporters calling on Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings against the President. The President’s policy of separating immigrant children is yet another gross violation of the Constitution on top of many other abuses of power.  Ms. Milano recommends our new book, The Constitution Demands It, to learn more about the legal case for impeachment proceedings and maximize pressure on Congress to begin an impeachment investigation. Thank you, Ms. Milano! Read the full letter, below.

Enough of the delays and diversions 

Dear Friend,

The harm that Donald Trump is inflicting on innocent children by separating them from their families at the border isn’t just morally repugnant — it’s unconstitutional and an impeachable offense.

These children — these precious children — are protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the prohibitions against “cruel and unusual punishment” in the Eighth Amendment as soon as they are on U.S. soil.

But Donald Trump doesn’t care about these kids, and he doesn’t care about the Constitution. He is playing political games at these children’s expense and we have to stop him. That’s why you should read this book from my friends at Free Speech For People:

THE CONSTITUTION DEMANDS IT: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump clearly lays out the ways in which Trump has violated the Constitution (over and over again) and why impeachment proceedings against him aren’t just justifiable — they’re necessary.

Make no mistake about it:

If we don’t stop him, Donald Trump will continue to degrade and violate our Constitution at the expense of all of us, but especially the most innocent and vulnerable among us. We must educate ourselves and accept nothing less than swift and appropriate action from our elected officials in Congress.

Read this book — it’s smart, informed, and accessible — and then join me in demanding impeachment proceedings against this President.

In solidarity and love,
Alyssa

P.S. if you want to help spread the word, retweet my link here! Xo

Click here to purchase your copy of The Constitution Demands It


Groups to IRS: Investigate Trump Foundation Now!

On July 27, 2018, Free Speech For People joined with over a dozen public interest groups to urge the Internal Revenue Service to pursue an investigation of the Trump Foundation for possible criminal acts.

“Our laws grant tax-exempt status to foundations and other charitable organizations on the condition that they operate exclusively for charitable purposes—not to promote political candidates or pay off private debts,” the letter states. “Yet according to the [New York State Attorney General’s] two-year investigation, the Trump Foundation repeatedly and blatantly engaged in just such prohibited activities. Failure by the IRS to respond energetically to such shocking allegations of misconduct would send the wrong message to other Americans about the need to adhere to our tax laws and the impartiality of their application.”

Click here to download the letter issued to the IRS.


What Does The First Russia Investigation Case Mean For Trump?

Ben Clements, Board Chair of Free Speech For People, and William Weinreb, former acting U.S attorney, join Jim Braude on WGBH: Greater Boston to discuss the upcoming trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the impact of the first case of the Russia investigation on Trump.


Impeaching Trump Is A Question For Congress

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein challenges the notion that launching impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump must wait until the conclusion of the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Contrary to a common misunderstanding, impeachment does not require evidence that the president committed a federal crime. While senators will be right to question whether Kavanaugh would cast the deciding vote to protect Trump from prosecution, Americans must not surrender an important constitutional safeguard against a president’s non-criminal abuse of power.

The fact that Trump has committed impeachable offenses that are not crimes has been lost in our current public discussion, which misleadingly speaks of impeachment as either a prerequisite to or a consequence for a finding of criminal violations. This narrow framing effectively shrinks the scope of Congress’ impeachment power by ignoring serious but non-criminal offenses like pocketing foreign emoluments and abusing the pardon power.

 

Want to learn more about the case for launching impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump? Click here to order a copy of the book, The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.

Ron Fein to the Washington Post: Is it treason?

In article for the Washington Post, Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein discusses the Helsinki Summit and President Trump’s response to questioning regarding Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Is it treason? It’s easy to see why people are asking. Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election are well documented. Evidence is mounting that the Trump campaign illegally conspired or coordinated with Russian government operatives — Robert Mueller has already secured guilty pleas from three campaign workers and campaign manager Paul Manafort is in jail awaiting trial. Trump is also notably unwilling to act against — or even criticize — Russian interests. And he apparently lacks interest in doing anything to secure the United States against future election interference.

For all this, however, Trump’s conduct might not rise to the technical definition of treason. And yet it might still be impeachment worthy regardless.

Click here to read the full article on the Washington Post.

Read more about the case for launching an impeachment investigation of Donald Trump from Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, President of Free Speech For People, and Ben Clements, Board Chair of Free Speech For People,  in the new book, The Constitution Demands It. Preorders available now!


VIDEO: Grounds for Impeachment

Free Speech For People and Need To Impeach hosted a Facebook Live event on July 10 to discuss the legal grounds for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

The panel featured Free Speech For People Board Chair Ben Clements, Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein, Vermont Law Professor Jennifer Taub and Tom Steyer founder of Need To Impeach. The panel was moderated by Free Speech For People President John Bonifaz.

In addition, Free Speech For People announced at the live event the publication of a new book, The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. To learn more and get a copy of the book today, visit: www.impeachmentproject.org/book.


Order The Constitution Demands It Today!