Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to misleading Congress about how long his then-boss continued discussing a business deal with Russia. He’d previously told the House and Senate intelligence committees in writing that Trump had broken off negotiations for a Moscow Trump Tower in January 2016. However, Cohen told investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller that the talks had actually continued until June 2016.
That didn’t sit well with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been one of Mueller’s most persistent critics. On the night of Cohen’s guilty plea, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he believed Mueller was trolling for “political sin” rather than actual crime. Apparently Dershowitz forgot that perjuring yourself before Congress–or anywhere else, for that matter–is definitely a crime.
On Friday, Mueller’s office released its sentencing memo prior to Cohen being formally sentenced next week for his lies to Congress, as well as a litany of campaign finance violations and financial crimes committed at Trump’s behest. And yet, Dershowitz still seems to think that Mueller is trolling for mere political misdeeds.
Dershowitz called into Friday’s edition of Fox News’ “The Five” to discuss Mueller’s memo. Watch here.
Dershowitz thought that if Mueller was looking for someone to give him “the keys to the kingdom,” he wasn’t going to find him in Cohen. He claimed that the only way the Moscow Trump Tower negotiations could rise to the level of criminal conduct would be if there were some sort of “quid pro quo” involved–like Russian strongman Vladimir Putin getting a penthouse there. He doesn’t see any evidence that happened.
All things considered, Dershowitz believed that if Cohen’s sentencing memo is any indication, Mueller’s final report will mostly be “a circumstantial case of political sin, rather than federal crime.” He believes the report, like the Cohen memo, will contain a lot of “activities which Americans won’t be happy with,” but no crimes.
Dershowitz must have been reading a different memo than the rest of us. In that memo, Mueller points out that Cohen not only engaged in a “deliberate and premeditated” effort to deceive Congress, but compounded that effort by “releasing and repeating his lies to the public, including to other potential witnesses.” Apparently it must be repeated–those are definitely crimes.
Indeed, Cohen’s lies continued when he first met with Mueller’s office. He only came clean after pleading guilty in September to, among other things, arranging hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal–on orders from Trump. Apparently he realized that his only chance at avoiding a lengthy prison term was to come clean and stop lying for Trump. Apparently Dershowitz missed that part of the memo. That’s the only way he could have possibly concluded that Cohen merely committed “political sins” on Trump’s behalf and at Trump’s behest.
Dershowitz is right that it’s not criminal in and of itself to do something that looks rotten politically. But he seems to think that by extension, it’s not a crime to cover up those sins by lying to Congress and to prosecutors. If he believes that, then one of the greatest legal minds this country has produced may be beclowning himself before our very eyes.
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