To use a football metaphor, Giuliani put the ball inside the 10-yard-line for the people investigating Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels. But before we get to that insanity, there was one other batch of madness that should be a far bigger deal than whether Trump violated Federal Election Commission (FEC) laws.
Ho-hum, the new lawyer for the president of the United States said on Fox News that the president fired the former FBI Director because he wouldn't give him a public exoneration during an ongoing investigation into his team's ties to a foreign adversary. No biggie. On to the sex stuff!
In all seriousness, the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels is a big deal, because the president potentially laundering money through his lawyer as a campaign donation to himself the week before the election is a big no-no, but there is no way in hell that it would be getting this kind of coverage if news folks like myself didn't get to put the words “porn star” in the title of this 100% newsworthy story. The writers on this season of America should be commended for finding a way to make FEC law the centerpiece of the news cycle. The takeaway from Giuliani's rabid appearance on Hannity is that these people are all complete and utter morons who think they can lie their way out of everything.
Anywho, here is the magic moment where Rudy Giuliani took an already problematic story for Trump, and made it much, much worse.
He then went on Fox & Friends this morning and somehow found a way to make the situation even more dire, contradicting himself in a span of two minutes.
The problem that Trump has with this $130,000 payment is fourfold:
1. We have proof that it was made.
2. His fixer, Michael Cohen, admitted to making the payment.
3. Trump did not report it on his federal presidential financial disclosures.
4. Trump denied knowing about the payment. On camera.
Essentially, the closer this $130,000 hush money payment over Trump's affair gets to Trump, the closer this gets to an FEC violation, and Giuliani contradicting Trump's public statements looks pretty bad in front of a judge. But don't take it from me, take it from a lawyer who happens to be married to one of Trump's most trusted advisers.
The law that President Trump is running up against here is 18 USC 1001:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
Now, before we all get excited over this, remember that we live in America, and the 2008 financial crisis proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that laws do not apply to powerful people in this country. I wouldn't hold your breath on our legal system ejecting a rich white man out of power, but this really is a tricky legal situation, as evidenced by the fact that Trump eschewed his usual early morning Fox & Friends-inspired tweetstorm, and very clearly retyped a carefully crafted statement from his lawyer(s), which was followed by a “no comment” from Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
I say “retyped” because you can absolutely tell that it's him at “played no roll.”
This is a tough situation for the president. Stormy Daniels’ lawyer is feeling emboldened, and he emphatically stated that “Trump will not serve out his term.” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, headed by Former Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen, is bringing a complaint against Trump over potentially violating 18 USC 1001, and they just got more momentum behind their case thanks to Giuliani’s legal strategy that he said he cleared with the president and his legal team.
The problem isn’t just FEC law—which may take until Trump’s death to issue a ruling—it’s the leverage that a violation of FEC law would give investigators in…other matters, shall we say. U.S. Attorneys can bring campaign finance prosecutions in front of a judge, and the Southern District of New York—who just shoved a legal roto rooter up Michael Cohen’s colon—would likely be interested in these matters, and almost surely would want to speak to Trump about them. Buckle up folks, we have a titanic battle of historic proportions on our hands: America’s inability to punish anyone with any measure of power versus the most criminally idiotic and incompetent group of people to ever hold power in this country.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.