The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that has engulfed the Trump administration appears to be heating up as it gets closer to the finish line. Although there have been a number of high profile indictments already, many analysts feel that more could be on the cards. House Democrats too are seeing the investigation as a defining moment for the Trump administration. In fact, Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is not ruling out a possible indictment for the president in the coming weeks.
Schiff told CBS’s Face of Nation that there’s a very real prospect that when Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department will indict him. If this happens, he would be the first US President in a long time to face the possibility of jail time. Schiff believes that there are many issues that could make Trump culpable. For instance, he argues that he and his colleagues have been discussing the issue of pardons. The president has used his power to pardon in a way that many Democrats believe interferes with the Mueller probe and how state witnesses cooperate with the investigation. Schiff says that this could be revisited.
The House Democrat was reacting to a recent court filing by federal prosecutors that noted Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, acted in “coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1” who is presumed to be president Trump. The coordination is related to two payments that were made to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump. The payments were considered illegal campaign contributions and Cohen has already pleaded guilty for facilitating them. The memo filed in court added that with the two payments, Cohen acted with intent to influence the election in 2016.
Trump has denied many times having any knowledge of the payment. He has claimed that Cohen acted alone and at one time even said that his former fixer was compensated for the money that he paid “out of his own pocket.” But federal investigators are not buying this. On Monday morning, the president claimed that the payments were private transactions that were done correctly by a lawyer. Trump added that it was Cohen’s liability if he made mistakes with the payments and not him.
House Democrats are convinced that if the president is convicted, then this will amount to an impeachable offense. According to Jerry Nadler, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, if Trump coordinated and directed the payments then he will have to face the legal jeopardy. Nadler added that even though this should be enough to begin impeachment proceedings, he maintained that Democrats are still not committed towards this path.
Democrats have said that they don’t think the illegal payments to the two women are serious enough for the Senate to impeach the president. But if down the line Trump is found guilty of more serious offenses, especially by the Mueller probe, then Congress might be forced to act. Democrats hold a majority in the House after a sweeping midterm victory but the GOP has strengthened its hold on the Senate. Any impeachment has to be bipartisan for it to succeed.