Investigation and impeachment? 'Not so fast,' my friends

Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenJudge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media Feds unlikely to charge Trump Organization execs in campaign finance case: report Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE, the president’s former attorney, returns to Congress today to testify again, a week after a congressional hearing in which he savaged Donald Trump as a racist, philanderer, con man, cheat and, yes, a crook. His testimony caused a great many Americans who want to see Trump immediately assume the title of “ex-president” to go into a frenzy. And with congressional investigations under way, the president’s critics now are certain that impeachment will be inevitable — and soon.

As Lee Corso says on College GameDay on ESPN: “Not so fast.” No one yearns to see Trump booted out of the office more than I do. If we could impeach a president for being a total scumbag, Cohen’s testimony — if believed — would be dispositive and we would all get our wish.

ADVERTISEMENT

But our Constitution says impeachment is for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Cohen’s testimony laid out many aspects that would go toward building a criminal case against the president (for example, his testimony that Trump deliberately inflated the value of his property when seeking loans from banks), but in only one case did his testimony provide enough facts on its own to clearly prove a crime.

That was his testimony about the election code violation, to which Cohen has pleaded guilty, involving payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep them quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump. So the question remains: Are these accusations regarding the election code violation covered by “high crime and misdemeanors”? That question is clearly debatable and poses a potential roadblock.

Consider, for example, the case of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards who, when running for the presidency in 2008, persuaded two of his donors to funnel money to a woman with whom he had an affair and who, in fact, gave birth to his child. The money was for her to keep quiet about the affair because, if it became public, it might ruin his chances of being elected. Sound familiar?

---

RELATED STORIES FROM THE HILL

---

Edwards was prosecuted but a jury found him not guilty; jurors had reasonable doubt about whether the money was a gift to the woman or a campaign contribution. Alas, the Federal Election Code is not crystal clear on this issue, either.

Additionally, the Edwards jury had trouble believing an aide who actually made the payment to the woman because he kept some of the money for himself and had made contradictory statements. Sound familiar? Would a jury believe Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress once before, but now says that he is telling the truth?

During my days as district attorney of Philadelphia and as an assistant district attorney, I tried many cases using co-defendants as witnesses against their conspirators, even though they had denied any knowledge of the crime. You have to argue to a jury that witnesses to crimes are rarely upstanding citizens such as accountants, members of the clergy, or librarians. Rather, they often are crooks, cheats and con men themselves.

I believe a good prosecutor could persuade a jury that Cohen is now telling the truth by pointing out there is strong corroborating evidence to his current version of events. But clearly, he is testifying with the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence than the three years in prison a judge has decreed.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, to Americans awaiting a new title for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE, my message is this: Be patient. Let’s see what is included in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report. I have a feeling it will contain some eye-popping information that currently is not on anyone’s radar screen. There is also more to come from the federal investigation by the Southern District of New York, including possible fraud and money laundering charges.

So, if you are hoping that Trump will be impeached by Memorial Day, adjust your calendar to, say, Memorial Day 2020 — at the earliest. Even if impeachment proceedings start, they would come on the heels of many investigative hearings. There will be a long debate in the House and then, if Trump is impeached, he would be tried by the Senate, where it would take 67 senators to vote to convict him.    

Those hoping for impeachment and removal may or may not get their wish. Even if it happens, it won’t be quick. Stay tuned!   

Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center.