On Tuesday, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on eight federal charges, including campaign finance violations from when he paid $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniel in the weeks before the 2016 election.
Despite several conflicting stories and justifications from Cohen and Donald Trump in the past, the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer admitted that he violated campaign finance laws that limit contributions and require disclosure to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
But now that Cohen — who once said he’d take a bullet for Trump — is facing consequences for his actions in 2016, the biggest unanswered question is whether the president will also be held accountable by Congress or the courts.
It’s a question that Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, raised on Twitter immediately after the announcement:
Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) August 21, 2018
Although a formal complaint was filed in January 2018, the FEC, which is notoriously gridlocked, likely won’t rule on the complaint until after the 2020 presidential election. The process could take years. So it’s possible Trump won’t even be president by the time the commission makes their call.
The most likely end result, if the FEC finds Trump’s campaign at fault, is a fine — and those fine amounts are only small fractions of what campaigns spend in elections.
But that wouldn’t stop criminal investigations of Trump’s involvement in campaign finance violations. In fact, these violations are far more likely to be enforced through criminal investigations, like the one that took down Cohen.
But still, the question persists: If Cohen broke the law, and did so “in coordination with and at the direction of a federal candidate for office,” can and will the president be charged as well?