Donald Trump coordinated with Michael Cohen to commit federal campaign fraud, prosecutors state in a sentencing memo filed Dec. 7 advising a substantial prison term for crimes to which Cohen has pleaded guilty.
Attorneys from the Southern District of New York state explicitly in the court filing that Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1” in handling payments to two women who claimed to have an affair with Trump long before the election. Trump is identified in this and other filings by U.S. attorneys as “Individual-1,” who “was elected President.” (The women are Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels.)
Cohen had in August pleaded guilty to several charges related to tax evasion, lying to banks, and campaign finance fraud, and stated in court he had coordinated on campaign-finance felonies with a political candidate that could only have been the president, and who he later identified as Trump.
However, this is the first time prosecutors have stated in a court filing that Cohen acted in coordination with Trump.
The president tweeted following the release of the sentencing memo, “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”
This filing does not constitute a charge against the president, but it implies that prosecutors have the evidence in hand beyond Cohen’s admissions to make such a frank statement. Nonetheless, neither Special Counsel Robert Mueller nor U.S. attorneys have signaled in any way whether charges might be brought against Trump.
Legal experts are not in agreement as to whether a sitting president may be indicted for a federal crime, much less be compelled to testify in court or be convicted of one. Some argue that the Constitution’s provision for presidential impeachment is the only method by which a president could be held to account while still serving. Others believe an indictment could be brought, but that it could be held in abeyance until the president left office.
The U.S. president is generally believed to lack the power to pardon his or her own crimes, but constitutional experts note that the guiding document doesn’t offer a specific prohibition against self-pardon, and no president has attempted to issue one.
President Trump has asserted he can pardon himself, but stated in June he had “done nothing wrong,” making the point moot.