The week of August 20th brought on a notable set of political events for the Trump administration. From special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference with the 2016 elections emerged a protracted set of findings for President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Manafort was found by a jury to be guilty of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, while Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies relating to tax evasion, loan fraud, and violations of campaign finance laws.
The finance law issue drew an especially significant amount of discussion. The issue derived from the Trump campaign’s actions to prevent information about two alleged affairs of Trump’s (with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal) from appearing in the media and influencing the 2016 federal elections. For a campaign contribution to be legal, it would need to come from the candidate’s campaign and would need to be reported as a campaign contribution. Trump’s team made what is referred to as ‘hush money’ payments to Daniels and McDougal to prevent their publicizing of their allegations. The payments were not provided by the Trump campaign, but instead were provided by corporations (in McDougal’s case, the publisher of the National Enquirer bought exclusive rights to her story and did not publicize it, a measure known as ‘catch and kill’). The campaign also failed to report the payments in both cases. Additionally, Michael Cohen made an illegal contribution when he paid Daniels prior to his being reimbursed and failed to report it.
Another substantial detail of the story lies in Cohen’s guilty plea. It included his statement under oath that in making the Daniels payment, he did so “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” Although his statement did not include President Trump’s name directly, Cohen’s involvement with the 2016 elections was through his role as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman. Consequently, it is inevitable that he is referring to Donald Trump with the phrase “a candidate for federal office.” If Cohen’s statements are true, that would mean that President Donald Trump would be implicated in a felony relating to a violation of campaign finance laws. Some of the remaining discussion appears to be centered around the truth or falsehood of Cohen’s statements and on the possible legal implications for Donald Trump.
A part of the discussion surrounding this story has been about possible consequences for the Trump administration in the future. Some perspectives offered by the UNO community provide insight to students’ reactions to the events.
Second-year student Charles Medley expresses ideas relating to a lack of political action in response to controversies. “I feel like it may or may not have as much of an impact as you’d think it would,” he explains, “because I know that there is an ongoing increase in the amount of people who say things but don’t vote or do anything about it, so I feel like as much as we politicize all of the things that are happening, not much will happen.”
First-year student Vinicio Hernandez offers a perspective about the perceived insignificance of controversial political events. “The measure of politics to me is almost completely individual by now. So any time that any events like these will occur, I almost don’t pay them much mind, because if we were to look under the aspect of eternity, under the aspect of the greater scheme of things, much of it will not really seem to matter.”
Claudio Gomes, a self-described ‘super junior’ at UNO, puts forth a perspective about the perceived seriousness of the findings this week. “It sounds like a big deal because if his lawyer and his campaign chairman are involved in such things that have to do with him, it might even bring up the idea of a possible impeachment, because it’s not just about what’s going to happen in the next elections. Should he continue to be our president? That’s the question that Americans will ask.”
Junior Ken Hagimoto shares a view about a perceived disparity between ideal and actual consequences for political misconduct. “Optimistically I would hope that it would lead to at least a removal of these people from office and hopefully that Trump himself would be eventually removed, because he definitely seems to be quite close to the entire investigation. I’m quite pessimistic for the actual outcome.” As for his predictions of the effects of the findings on November elections, “We’re already looking at a very positive swing in terms of Congress for the November election results, at least according to FiveThirtyEight [an opinion poll analysis site], so I’m not sure if there is going to be any noticeable change in that sense, and I think it’s just going to make it more likely that the Democrats regain control of the House.” Hagimoto further analyzes, “I’m thinking it might end up being quite contested at some other locations just because of the fact that Democrats are now becoming more energized, it’s more likely that the Republicans are more likely to energize their base, and the Republicans have definitely a much stronger grassroots initiative than the Democrats do.”
Mugshot of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman during the 2016 presidential campaign Source: Politico