IT’S ABSURD to think a president could ever be impeached for lying about sex.
Or so was the prevailing wisdom until it happened in 1998 to Bill Clinton. Twenty years later the specter of another such chapter is suddenly not that far-fetched. It’s too soon to know where things are heading, but it’s hardly rushing to judgment to say yesterday was a very bad day for President Trump.
His former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight counts of financial fraud involving schemes to hide millions of dollars in foreign accounts to evade taxes. But the real dagger aimed at Trump came from his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, who, as part of his guilty plea to campaign finance and other charges, said Trump directed him to pay off two women who allege they had affairs with Trump in order to buy their silence in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.
The sworn statements by Cohen implicate Trump in the commission of crimes. Globe op-ed contributor Michael Cohen (yes, the same name) declares that there is “a very good chance” that yesterday will be “forever known as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
We’ve seen such proclamations before, which almost always come — and the Cohen column is no exception — from those who also wish fervently that they are true. But the news yesterday does seem qualitatively different, because it centers on a sworn statement about specific action Trump is alleged to have directed.
“[E]ven the president’s staunchest defenders acknowledged privately that the legal setbacks he suffered within minutes of each other could open fissures among Republicans on Capitol Hill and expose Mr. Trump to the possibility of impeachment,” the New York Times reports.
A New York Times editorial reminds readers that yesterday’s bombshells are merely the latest ones. “You’re forgiven if you’ve lost track of all the criminality, either charged or admitted, that has burst forth from Mr. Trump’s circles in the last couple years,” it says, before ticking of a cheat-sheet review of other cases, including guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser and a campaign policy adviser.
Is this time different?
“For the first time, the charges undeniably relate to Trump’s election,” writes Evan Slavitt, a one-time Massachusetts Republican candidate for attorney general, in today’s Boston Herald. Maybe Trump can evade criminal culpability for Cohen’s actions, says Slavitt. “Even so, however, it squarely puts Trump directly in contact with a longtime associate who did something that only benefited Trump and not himself,” he writes. “In earlier days, this alone might have called the presidency into question.”
But by today’s standards, which Trump seems able to force a rewrite of each day? Who knows? Which leaves Slavitt to conclude only that “it has to cost Trump and his administration something.”
One obvious candidate for that would be Republican seats in Congress in the coming midterm election.
“If Congress does not act, then not only will impeachment be on the ballot in November, but so too will be the future of the rule of law in America,” writes columnist Cohen in the Globe.
Maybe the latest developments change the equation. Until now, however, the talk of making impeachment an issue in the midterms has mostly had Democrats worried about only energizing Trump’s base to turn out in larger numbers than current polling has forecast.
The saving grace for Trump to the chaos and convictions that have defined his administration has been how inured the country has become to the circus in the White House. This morning, Trump tweeted that anyone looking for a good lawyer would be a fool to hire the man he confided in and relied on for years as his personal lawyer.
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.