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

Democrats have ramped up their rhetoric toward President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem 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: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 SchiffImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates 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 SandersJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal 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) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' 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 ManafortPaul Manafort's former son-in-law sentenced to 9 years in prison for scamming Dustin Hoffman, others NSC official testified there was 'no doubt' Trump pushed quid pro quo Prosecutor says Stone lied to Congress to protect Trump as trial opens 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 Stanley KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing 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 PaulSunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption Paul dismisses Bevin loss, touts 'red wave' in other Kentucky races 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 RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues 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."