For nearly two years, there has been endless speculation about whether or not President Donald Trump is guilty of collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election. While the investigation on Russian interference is ongoing, federal prosecutors led by special counsel Robert Mueller have connected Trump to a federal crime for the first time.
Court documents filed by the Justice Department say that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, arranged illegal, secret payments to repress information about his extramarital affairs during the 2016 campaign “in coordination with and at the direction of” the president. This goes against federal law, which requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures, according to the Associated Press.
Cohen is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in August to eight federal crimes that took place between 2012 and 2016. These crimes include five counts of tax evasion and making “hush money” payments to adult film director and actress Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of who claim to have had affairs with Trump.
The president has denied both of the affairs and that he had any knowledge of the payments to Daniels and McDougal. Despite Trump’s continuous denial about the payments though, federal prosecutors aren’t convinced. So, what happens now? Can the president be arrested or charged for a federal crime with this evidence?
The short answer is yes. Martin London, a retired partner for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, told Time magazine that “there is no language in the Constitution providing the president with any immunity from prosecution by the appropriate criminal authorities.” This means that Trump is subject to the ordinary criminal processes of “indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law” under the Constitution just like everyone else.
In regards to when charges could be filed against Trump, should there be any, there’s really no hard and fast rule. Article II, section 4 of the Constitution states the terms under in which the president, vice president, and other civil officers can be impeached, which includes bribery, but it doesn’t explicitly say that this act of Congress needs to take place before an elected official is indicted for a crime. So, Trump could be next on Mueller’s list.
As of now, the office of the special counsel and Congress have not announced plans to charge the president with any crimes.