Remember how Bill Clinton got re-elected right after Webb Hubbell went to the can?
The commentariat is making a big deal of Paul Manafort's conviction on eight counts of tax fraud and other stuff, as well as former personal attorney Michael Cohen's guilty plea for payoff crimes, saying the path is finally open for their long held dream of impeaching President Trump. Trump's "day of reckoning" has finally come, howls the Guardian. Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha, say a host of others. Just look at today's RCP.
Historically, a president is pretty separate from the doings of his lieutenants. We've seen that as far back as President Reagan, who had many lieutenants railroaded, most for political, rather than criminal, reasons. Reagan was re-elected in 1984.
The one that really sticks out, though, is Whitewater, which was the white-collar flimflam racket that broke as a scandal during the first term of President Bill Clinton. As Kira Argounova on Twitter noted:
What's more, President Obama was issued a record-sized $375,000 fine for campaign finance violations. Noted here:
Let me break it down for you:— 🇺🇸 Lynne Patton (@LynnePatton) August 22, 2018
The only real crime by #Cohen & #Manafort is tax evasion.
Which has nothing to do with Trump or Collusion.
The other “campaign” crime is a simple fine.
Just ask Obama.
He paid $375K for violating campaign finance laws in 2008.#CarryOn 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/FfcnOLN1VP
Did anyone in the press or punditocracy call for Clinton or Obama to resign after those incidents?
Nope, not in the least.
The Manafort conviction doesn't even tangentially involve Trump or the Trump campaign in any wrongdoing. Manafort was prosecuted because he made the wrong life decision to affiliate with the Trump campaign to help manage the anticipated convention floor flight. But for that decision, Manafort never would have been targeted by prosecutors on charges previously ignored by federal investigators. That Manafort was prosecuted because he knew Trump does not implicate Trump in the wrongdoing.
The Michael Cohen plea deal is potentially more problematic. Cohen said he made the payments to buy the silence of two women with the knowledge and at the direction of a federal candidate (Trump). That contradicts Cohen['s] prior versions. But assuming it's provable, it's not clear that the payments were illegal. The issue is whether they constituted unreported campaign contributions, which is not a slam dunk for prosecutors. In the plea deal the issue was not litigated – Cohen agreed to it because the prosecution had him on more serious tax and fraud charges, so adding in the campaign finance issues was at no cost to Cohen.
John Hinderaker summed it up well:
It is not illegal to pay someone to remain silent. The theory here is that the money paid to Clifford was an illegal campaign contribution. Since Cohen says he made the payment to Clifford at Trump's direction, Mueller is trying to ensnare Trump in that "crime." To my knowledge, there is no legal authority on whether paying a woman to keep her mouth shut constitutes a campaign contribution. It strikes me as a foolish interpretation of the law, and forcing Cohen to plead guilty to the "crime" of paying off Ms. Clifford doesn't transform it into a crime.
History shows that most voters aren't willing to give up a good economy and a record of foreign policy success over a crappy little matter such as the weasel dealings of a few of the president's lieutenants. They never have in a good economy, and based on the Obama example, they are even willing to give a president who gives us a bad economy a pass, too.
The press can howl all it likes, but it's not an issue. The Mollie Tibbetts murder-by-an-illegal story alone has far greater voter concern on Twitter than this swamp clucking. The Manafort conviction and the Cohen plea deal are not Trump. They're not the Trump record. The press wants it to be so, and its efforts will fall flat. In fact, it's likely it's only going to see falling ratings the more it bays about taking Trump's head, because this isn't the vaunted Russia collusion the special counsel is charged with finding, for one, any more than it's a matter of blame for President Trump. They should actually be worrying and kvetching about that. Why? Because nothing is going to happen. Can it just stop already?