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Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator'

Democrats have ramped up their rhetoric toward President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE in response to court filings in which prosecutors said Michael Cohen violated campaign finance laws at then-candidate Trump’s direction. 

A trio of Democratic lawmakers on Sunday raised the possibility that the president could face an indictment upon his departure from office, while Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire MORE (D-Conn.) argued that Trump is an “unindicted co-conspirator,” a term previously applied to former President Nixon.

“The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office. President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator, a — certainly a different set of facts,” Murphy said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“But this investigation is now starting to put the president in serious legal crosshairs, and he should be worried and the whole country should be worried,” he continued. 

The term, which became high-profile in reference to Nixon in 1974, applies when an individual is named in reference to another crime without being indicted for that crime. Nixon, who resigned before he could be impeached, was never indicted. A number of legal experts have said the term applies to Trump, who is referenced without being named in Cohen's confession and sentencing recommendation.

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A pair of high-ranking House Democrats did not utter the phrase "unindicted co-conspirator" on Sunday, but argued the president's legal troubles could soon intensify.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE (D-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a prominent foil of the president's, asserted on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the same case for putting Cohen — the president's former attorney — in jail for his campaign finance law violations could be applied to Trump.

"My takeaway is there's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time," Schiff said.

The president's defenders and attorneys have repeatedly argued that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the soon-to-be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that he disagrees with that suggestion.

"Nobody, not the president, not anybody else, can be above the law," Nadler said on CNN's "State of the Union," claiming that Trump was at the center of a "massive fraud."

If the Justice Department refuses to indict a sitting president, then the statute of limitations should be held so that charges can be filed after the individual leaves office, Nadler argued, speaking generally and not specifically about Trump.

The term "unindicted co-conspirator" began to resurface in August in reference to Trump after Cohen, a longtime Trump Organization employee, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to bank fraud, tax fraud and two counts of making or aiding campaign finance law violations. In Cohen's plea, he indicated he broke campaign finance law at Trump's direction when he paid two women who alleged they had affairs with the president.

Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman told WBUR in Boston at the time that "there can be little doubt that Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator in those two crimes."

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Sanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal MORE (I-Vt.), some Democrats and critics of the president floated the term in the weeks that followed.

It resurfaced this week after federal prosecutors filed a series of documents related to investigations into former Trump associates.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE detailed the extent of cooperation between his team and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn in a filing last Wednesday, and on Friday filed paperwork detailing allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortRepublican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies For the Trump-haters, everything is a crime 3 take-aways from the Michael Flynn pardon MORE lied to prosecutors repeatedly after reaching a plea agreement.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Friday also filed documents that laid out allegations against Cohen, and stated that he violated campaign finance laws at the direction of "Individual 1," whose description matches Trump.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued the court filings showed that prosecutors believe Trump “committed a felony that enabled him to become president.”

“Covering up those payments is part of what was done, part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator,” Blumenthal said.

The comments drew the ire of Trump, who in a pair of tweets blasted Blumenthal over his years-old misleading statements about his military service during the Vietnam War. 

“Watched Da Nang Dick BlumenthalRichard (Dick) BlumenthalTrump in Vietnam mocks Blumenthal Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' Trump blasts Blumenthal after senator calls him an 'unindicted co-conspirator' MORE on television spewing facts almost as accurate as his bravery in Vietnam (which he never saw),” Trump tweeted. 

While Democrats were in agreement that the latest court filings spelled legal trouble for Trump, they were largely noncommittal on whether the documents should presage impeachment proceedings.

Nadler, who as Judiciary Committee chairman would oversee impeachment proceedings in the House, said the campaign finance violations would qualify as "impeachable offenses," though he stopped short of saying such action would be warranted.

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he doesn't believe there's enough public evidence to go through with impeachment.

Schiff said lawmakers need to "wait till we see the full picture" before deciding on impeachment.

Republicans and allies of the president have for months stood by Trump throughout his legal ups and downs, and continued to do so on Sunday.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Ky.) downplayed the potential legal implications of campaign finance law violations, saying the matter has been "over-criminalized," while Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' MORE (R-Fla.) urged Americans to wait for a full accounting of the facts.

"There's no reason to not stand by anybody in this moment," Rubio said on CBS. "There are pleadings, there are cases, there are evidence, we're going to wait for all of it to be out there. And I would caution everyone to wait for all of it to be out there until you make judgment."