In the last few months, we’ve seen numerous members of Donald Trump’s inner circle scurrying to special counsel Robert Mueller or to federal prosecutors and beg for a plea deal. So many have done so, in fact, that talk of Trump going to prison doesn’t sound so outlandish anymore. That much is obvious to anyone who has watched the swamp of corruption overflow out of this White House–even if you don’t have any legal training.
Well, someone who does have legal training has an idea about just how dire Trump’s position has become. He thinks it’s bad enough that Trump needs to seriously think about making a deal of his own–one that involves him giving up the presidency.
Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics counsel during the early part of George W. Bush’s second term, has been one of Trump’s biggest gadflies over the last two years. He has wasted little time taking to Twitter in order to call out the unethical and sometimes criminal outrages coming from this White House.
Painter isn’t just talking, though. He’s doing something about it. He is vice-chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a bipartisan watchdog group that has filed numerous lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests in order to hold Trump accountable. Most notably, it is suing Trump for continuing to let proceeds from his deals with foreign governments flow into his bank account. Painter and CREW contend this violates the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bars government officials from receiving gifts from foreign powers.
Painter joined a panel discussion on MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” just as Trump got two yuuuuge pieces of bad news. First, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was formally sentenced to three years in prison in part for carrying out illicit activities at Trump’s behest–including arranging hush money payments to two of Trump’s former mistresses, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, on Trump’s orders.
Soon afterward, federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed that American Media, the parent company of the National Enquirer, admitted that it bought the rights to McDougal’s story and sat on it to protect Trump’s campaign.
All of this made for a rather juicy discussion. Watch here.
Painter sat in with former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman. Guest host Yasmin Vossoughian asked Painter if he believed Republican lawmakers are starting to see that “things are closing in” on Trump. Painter replied that while Republican lawyers are “publicly” standing with Trump, they almost certainly know that “this is a bad situation for the president.
As proof, Painter pointed out that Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. Earlier, Goldman noted that two months of that sentence came for lying to Congress. Under federal sentencing guidelines, this would call for probation, especially since Cohen cooperated without a formal agreement to cooperate as part of his plea deal. However, federal judge William Pauley opted for upward departure in order to drive home how serious this was.
That wasn’t lost on Painter. He believed that a three-year sentence for Cohen is bad news for Trump.
The president’s lawyer got three years in prison for crimes that he committed on behalf of the president, his client. And that’s not just the payoffs for these women that were illegal campaign expenditures, but a range of different crimes. If the lawyer gets three years, how much time should the client get?
Painter then noted that it could get far worse for Trump as Mueller peels back the onion that is the Russian election hacking scandal–which could yield evidence of obstruction of justice and other crimes. Add it up, and Painter has some very sobering advice for Trump–and his legal team.
Donald Trump is in serious trouble. His lawyers ought to be telling him to negotiate a plea deal. It’s time to negotiate a comprehensive plea deal for Donald Trump. Include federal and state charges, reduced charges in return for his resignation.
Painter argued that the more sober heads on Capitol Hill ought to be pushing for such a deal, as it would allow Trump and his family to plead guilty to reduced charges so we can “move on as a country.” After all, as Painter sees it, “it’s quite clear his (Trump’s) goose is cooked here.”
It’s hard not to agree. After all, Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn are both cooperating–and most of the people who ranked higher than them on Trump’s inner circle are Trumps by birth or marriage. Both were facing 20 or more years in prison if they went to trial. But Cohen got only three years, and Flynn may avoid the inside of a cell altogether. Moreover, the Enquirer has corroborated Cohen’s previous statements about hush money.
Publicly, Trump is his usual oblivious self. On Thursday morning, Trump gave what has become his standard take on the many investigations involving him and/or his inner circle.
But according to NBC News, it’s a different story in private. Reportedly, Trump has told several people close to him that he is spooked at the prospect of being impeached. Seen in this light, his rage tweets about Mueller and Cohen may be the acts of a cornered animal–one who does indeed realize the walls are closing in on him.
One has to wonder if his lawyers are also of the same mind. Is that enough for them–and Trump–to reach out to Mueller and to federal prosecutors in Manhattan for a deal?
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