A federal judge confirmed on Wednesday that the Justice Department has ended its investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, indicating that no one else will face charges in the case. But Judge William Pauley also announced that, over the government’s objections, he will be making many of the underlying documents in the case public without requested redactions.
The case stemmed from Cohen’s efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure hush money payments for two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. Since investigators determined these payments were done in order to help secure Trump’s victory, the spending counted as campaign contributions that were never recorded and were, in fact, illegally concealed. The Trump Organization, Cohen has said, helped repay him for the costs of the hush money while disguising the payment falsely as a legal retainer.
Cohen implicated Trump directly in the crime, saying the then-candidate coordinated with him and directed him to make the payments. There is even a public recording of the pair seeming to discuss one of the payments. Donald Trump Jr., too, maybe implicated in the crime because he allegedly signed some of the repayment checks to Cohen.
For these and other crimes to which he pleaded guilty, Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison. But neither Trump nor no one else apparently involved in the scheme appears to be vulnerable to charges in the case.
As a sitting president, of course, Trump could not be charged with a crime under current Justice Department policy regardless of the evidence. Such a policy wouldn’t protect the president’s son or anyone else involved in his company, though.
So the public has been left with many questions about this case. Would the president have been charged with any related crimes were he not in office? Why weren’t charges brought against other people who appear to have been involved? And was Attorney General Bill Barr — who was chosen by Trump to protect him in the special counsel’s investigation and has shown a clear desire to exonerate the president from any wrongdoing — involvement in the final decisions?
Additionally: Why weren’t any Trump Organization officials questioned by the investigators in the Southern District of New York, if a recent CNN report is correct?
We may yet get some answers to these questions. Judge Pauley issued an order Wednesday noting that the government has confirmed that the investigation is no longer ongoing, but it asked that some of the underlying materials related to Cohen’s case remain sealed “to protect third-party privacy interests.”
Pauley didn’t buy it.
“[The] weighty public ramifications of the conduct described in the campaign finance portions warrant disclosure,” he wrote. “Moreover, the involvement of most of the relevant third-party actors is now public knowledge, undercutting the need for continued secrecy. … On balance, the ‘strong presumption of public access’ to search warrants and search warrant materials under the common law far outweighs the weakened privacy interests at play here.”
He also argued that the matter is “of national importance” and that “it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”
The materials will be unsealed on Thursday morning, he ruled. He allowed that there may be a few limited redactions.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are in a celebratory mood.
“We are pleased that the investigations surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” Jay Sekulow, the president’s attorney, said Wednesday according to USA Today. “We have maintained from the outset that the president never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”
He also suggested that he is not aware of any other federal case in which Trump is a subject. However, reports suggest that an investigation of the president’s inaugural committee remain ongoing.
Bill Barr is serving notice to DOJ officials that he’ll ruin them if they investigate Trump: MSNBC host
An MSNBC discussion about Bill Barr running interference within the Justice Department for Donald Trump ended with "AM Joy" host Joy Reid suggesting that the attorney general's very public "media blitz" over the so-called "Horowitz Report" is a warning shot to anyone in the DOJ who thinks about investigating the president.
As Reid explained it, "He did a whole TV blitz to basically say that his own agency, the FBI, was spying on the Trump campaign, something that the inspector general said did not happen."
Reid took that to its logical conclusion.
"Now he’s saying, ‘Well, I’ve got a different report that’s going to find the motivations’ that he’s basically saying are bad motivations by people in the FBI. And if you’re that FBI agent and then you hear that Donald Trump may be again looking for foreign help and maybe again getting help from Russia or forcing help from Ukraine, what do you do?" she asked. "Would you then not be concerned that, should you go ahead and investigate foreign interference in our election, that William Barr may come after you?"
Stefanik voters turning on GOP lawmaker after she threw away her credibility to defend Trump
Over the course of the impeachment hearings, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has gone from a relative backbencher who sells herself as a moderate to voters in Upstate New York, to a theatrical partisan grandstanding for President Donald Trump and a top target of ire from Democrats.
But according to Politico, at least some of her voters appear turned off by her new stance.
"While Stefanik once able to strike a delicate balance between her Republican identity and her positions on issues like climate change, some think those earlier convictions are gone, like Phillip Paige, a former Stefanik backer and a member of SUNY Potsdam’s College Republicans," wrote Politico's Anna Gronewald. "A native of the 21st district’s Madrid, New York, Paige said he started to lose faith in Stefanik when she began supporting Trump as the party’s nominee in 2016. Paige supported John Kasich’s candidacy in that election. 'A lot of her boots-on-the-ground young Republican crowd has really become quite disillusioned,' he said. 'We saw her as what we thought the future of the Republican Party was and that really has been disproven. Unless, maybe the future of the Republican party is Donald Trump.'"
DOJ employees urged to revolt against Bill Barr for throwing IG report ‘in the trash’ to defend Trump
On MSNBC's "AM Joy," former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne excoriated Attorney General William Barr for his partisan suppression of the inspector general's conclusions about the FBI's Russia investigation.
"Here's the problem. The inspector general has already found that the — the investigation was not motivated in the way that Bill Barr is saying it is, and he's directly taking all the work of all the people and he's throwing it in the trash," said Alksne. "And he's added this other layer of an investigation and now he's broken all the rules, because one of the rules in an investigation is you don't talk about it in the middle, and he's done that. And it's a very threatening thing to the person who did the initial investigation, and it's also a way of putting his thumb on the scale with the guy who's doing the followup investigation, [U.S. Attorney John] Durham. He was talked into issuing a press release that was completely improper."