There is a very good chance that August 21, 2018, will forever be known as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.
On Tuesday afternoon in New York, Michael Cohen (the other one) — Trump’s former lawyer, fixer and consigliore — pleaded guilty to a litany of criminal offenses, including bank and tax fraud. But the most troubling piece of news for President Trump is that Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance law violation, in which he admitted in open court to acting “in coordination with and at the direction of” a federal candidate in ensuring the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. Who is that federal candidate? Donald Trump.
What is perhaps most shocking about this outcome is that Cohen did not volunteer this information as part of a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors. There is, however, nothing to stop him from working with the federal government in the future in order to lighten his prison sentence, which means that the legal and political vise on the president could get even tighter.
As if all this is not bad enough for Trump, at practically the same moment that Cohen was pleading guilty, a federal jury in Alexandria, Va., delivered guilty verdicts on eight counts against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
It is somewhat inexplicable that Manafort has not made a deal with prosecutors to tell them what he knows about possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Maybe he doesn’t know anything or maybe he’s hoping for a presidential pardon. Whatever the case, if Manafort decides to talk to prosecutors in return for leniency in sentencing, Trump could be in even greater political and legal peril.
But no matter what Cohen and Manafort decide to do, one thing is clear — the stench of corruption emanating from the White House has become overpowering. Since the Mueller investigation began, the president’s former campaign manager, former deputy campaign manager, former foreign policy aide, former national security adviser, and former lawyer and fixer have all either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of federal crimes. That is, to coin a phrase, a heck of a lot of witches.
But all of this news — as well as the probable indictments and plea deals to come — should not allow us to miss the most important takeaway from what happened today: The president of the United States has been implicated in the commission of a federal crime. Cohen’s plea agreement was clear in naming Trump as a co-conspirator in at least some of criminal endeavors.
There is no precedent for a legal bombshell like this being dropped: not even during Watergate. One might even surmise that the only reason Trump wasn’t indicted and charged with a crime Tuesday is because of the Justice Department’s prohibition on the indictment of a sitting president.
Instead, the only mechanism for dealing with a president who is implicated in a federal crime is to impeach him, which means that the ball is now in Congress’s court.
The time has clearly come — and is, in fact, long overdue — for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. A failure to do so would represent one of the most stunning abdications of congressional responsibility in modern American history. 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.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.