That is the unquestionable impact on the US president of the testimony of Michael Cohen – US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer – before Congress (he is speaking at 5:00 p.m. EST, but has already released his opening statement.)
National leaders – and heads of crime organizations, for that matter – usually have fixers and middlemen handle anything too gray or illegal so that they are not directly implicated.
Then you can’t take them down if you can’t turn those middlemen – who are carefully selected for their loyalty and readiness – away from taking a bullet for their leader.
Until you can.
Cohen’s testimony will not come close to ending Trump’s presidency now, but it may permanently damage it – and undeniably makes some charges against him likely once he no longer has presidential immunity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows something about this.
For two years, the police struggled to convince Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that they had a case worthy of indicting and toppling Netanyahu, but to no avail.
Mandelblit had many doubts about toppling Netanyahu over Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair, and Case 2000, the Yediot Ahronot-Yisrael HayomAffair, without more to show.
Also, for over a year, his top former aide, Shlomo Filber, had made it clear that Netanyahu had done no wrong in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair, which meant that there was little to go after the prime minister for on that front.
Filber also seemed ready to take a bullet for Netanyahu.
Until he turned.
And when he turned, another Netanyahu top aide, Nir Hefetz was arrested.
Facing jail time, he also turned.
Suddenly, Filber and Hefetz pointed the finger directly at Netanyahu for intervening to help Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch make over NIS 600 million, and for directing Elovitch to give the prime minister inflated positive coverage from his Walla online site.
And the two had details, dates, times and quotes to fill in the blanks.
Tomorrow or by the middle of next week, Netanyahu will be fighting for his political life as Mandelblit announces an intent to indict him for bribery – all because Filber and Hefetz turned.
Former Trump national security adviser-turned-state’s-witness Michael Flynn, as well as Cohen, also have shocking details, dates and times.
Cohen says that Trump was “a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.”
Stone, a close Trump ally, is being indicted for working with Wikileaks, which was working with Russia to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.
But no one could prove that Stone told Trump, as Stone still denies that Trump knew.
Now, Cohen says that Trump knew and that he heard Stone tell Trump about the Wikileaks intervention in July 2016, just days before the Democratic National Convention. He quotes Trump as saying, “wouldn’t that be great.”
This does not mean Trump is guilty any more than an indictment takes away innocent until proven guilty from Netanyahu.
For one, Trump can say that he only knew about Stone and Wikileaks, not that Wikileaks was working with Russia. Also, Cohen said that even if Stone was close to Trump, he was a free agent and not formally part of the campaign. This would complicate any legal case.
But it does mean that once Trump is no longer president, there is a real chance of him facing criminal charges, especially since around the time of the telephone conversation Cohen discussed Wednesday, Trump held a news conference in which he said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing – I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Around then is also when Russia sent phishing attempts to Hilary Clinton’s staffers.
The chance of charges escalates with Cohen saying that Trump repeatedly lied about his attempted real estate investment in Russia.
Trump has said that it was nothing serious and that the deal was dead by January 2016, before the US presidential campaign got serious.
Cohen says that, “There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me ‘How’s it going in Russia?’ – referring to the Moscow Tower project.”
He adds: “Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it… because he never expected to win the election… because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Cohen does not seem to add much in terms of evidence that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between some of his top campaign officials and a Russian operative under an alias.
But maybe the evidence from Cohen – which almost certainly could lead to a case against Trump once he is not president – are allegations that he directed Cohen to cover up affairs with hush-money payments, in violation of campaign finance laws.
This has nothing to do with Russia, so it is less of a political hot potato. But it could eventually put Trump in prison.
Regarding these allegations, Cohen says that, “Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a home equity line of credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign.”
Cohen then narrates checks that Trump sent him as late as eight months into the presidency to reimburse him for the hush money, some of which he is producing for Congress.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was also invincible for years of litigation until top lieutenants brought him down.
Though Netanyahu and Trump are innocent until proven guilty, they may be next.
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