Donald Trump now stands accused of the very same charges that brought down Richard Milhous Nixon. If you think you’ve heard that before, the difference is this time: there appears to be a “smoking gun”. That’s how news outlets such as CNN are calling it.
This is why Democrat lawmakers are so excited about the BuzzFeed News story that claims: “President Donald Trump directed his long-time attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.”
It’s a startling claim, and the special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office has said that some of the report isn’t accurate – but the investigation referred to in the report may be separate to the Mueller inquiry.
The key here isn’t that Trump’s grubby fixer is letting rip ahead of going to prison for three years – both Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani insist Cohen lied to gain a shorter sentence. What makes the claim so hot are those two federal law enforcement officials. (We’ll get back to them in a moment).
Articles of Impeachment
In the Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon on July 27, 1974, the then-President was charged with “approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorised investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.”
This was among a number of charges that Nixon chose not to defend in Congress – or in the Senate, where a trial would have taken place if his impeachment (securing an indictment) has been successful. He chose to resign instead.
High-profile Democrats have come out hard, choosing the President’s favourite medium, to call for immediate action if the BuzzFeed story is true.
Eric Holder, the former attorney general under President Barack Obama, initially tweeted: “If true – big.”
He followed up with: “If true – and proof must be examined – Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr (William Barr, Trump’s nominee to replace attorney general Jeff Sessions) must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is a potential inflection point.”
If true – and proof must be examined – Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is a potential inflection point. https://t.co/iaZmiHgL7L
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) January 18, 2019
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted: “Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP. Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act.”
Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP. Mueller shouldn't end his inquiry, but it's about time for him to show Congress his cards before it's too late for us to act. https://t.co/ekG5VSBS8G
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 18, 2019
Californian Democrat Ted W Lieu: “Based on the BuzzFeed report and numerous other articles showing @realDonaldTrump committed Obstruction of Justice and other possible felonies, it is time for the House Judiciary Committee to start holding hearings to establish a record of whether @POTUS committed high crimes.”
Cohen not source in latest story
The BuzzFeed journalists insist that Cohen was not a source. But they claim he confirmed the information to special counsel Robert Mueller after “the special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organisation and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents”.
Texas congressman Joaquin Castro (whose brother Julian is running for President in 2020) wrote: “If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.”
Mueller’s office has disputed some aspects of the BuzzFeed story, without detailing what exactly they’ve got wrong. It’s an unusual move because the special prosecutor ordinarily doesn’t buy into media reports.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterisation of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” a spokesman for the office said.
BuzzFeed, standing by its report, has asked the special prosecutor to clarify what it got wrong.
This brings us back to those two federal investigators, the sources in the yarn.
John Barron hosts The Drum and Planet America on ABC TV, and is a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. He told The New Daily that Mueller has so far run a disciplined and leak-proof operation – which rules out anyone in his office talking to BuzzFeed.
“The inference is that it’s coming from the (Justice Department’s) Southern District of New York, which is running a parallel investigation into Cohen,” said Mr Barron.
“There’s been so much smoke in the last two and a half years, this is more like a well-shaped plume,” he said. “But it’s interesting timing with Cohen set to testify before Congress… it sets it up nicely for the Democrats.”
‘Smoking gun’ tag may be premature
A true smoking gun, said Barron, might be a recording or some other unambiguous evidence that Trump ordered Cohen to lie – or “make it happen” as BuzzFeed quoted the President second-hand – something powerful enough for Republican senators to turn against Trump.
There is no doubt that the House, dominated by the Democrats, would successfully impeach Mr Trump. But it’s the Senate that runs a trial.
“And two thirds of the Senate are needed to convict,” said Barron. “It’s inconceivable that 17 or18 Republican will vote to convict him.
“Really, we’re in the same position that we’ve been in since May 2017 … waiting to see what Mueller has got.“