On Wednesday, former Donald Trump attorney and self-styled “fixer” Michael Cohen spent the entire day testifying before the House Oversight Committee about the various crimes and misdeeds perpetrated by the president of the United States.
Bank fraud, tax fraud, and blatant campaign finance violations were among the allegations leveled by Cohen, who came prepared with receipts. Cohen’s testimony is hardly the first time Trump has been credibly accused of felonious financial crimes, but never have accusations been as thoroughly buttressed with documentation and specificity.
Of course, the big question for the country is not whether Trump committed crimes — that is already a certainty. The question is, can a sitting president be brought up on charges, and if so, will any of those charges stick.
Respected legal scholars of all political persuasions vary on the answer to that question, a lack of consensus which itself suggests any attempt to indict the president while in office will likely be an exercise in futility.
But the family patriarch was not the only person in the Trump family who Michael Cohen incriminated. And unlike their father, the legal protections afforded to the inhabitant of the Oval Office do not extend to the Trump progeny.
Of particular interest to the committee members is Donald Trump, Jr. The president’s eldest son was thought to be the subject of heightened interest by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team before Cohen’s hearing, but on Wednesday the public was finally read into some of the details.
Cohen submitted a photocopy of a check for $35,000 — signed by Trump — to the committee on Wednesday, one of eleven made out to him for a $130,000 reimbursement of a hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels. According to Cohen, the other checks came either from Trump’s personal account or an account attached to the Trump Foundation — and therefore signed by Don Jr.
Those payments are a violation of campaign finance laws, and if Don Jr. indeed authorized checks to Cohen, he is potentially guilty of the same federal crime as his father.
Perhaps more intriguing is the role Don Jr. allegedly played in coordinating with Roger Stone, the Trump confidant and campaign aide facing his own litany of criminal charges. Stone is believed to have played a role in establishing a line of communication with Wikileaks, the propaganda outfit that helped disseminate emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign by Russian intelligence operatives.
In his opening statement, Cohen recounted an incident in which Don Jr. entered his father’s office in Trump Tower during the campaign, walked behind his desk, and told him “The meeting is all set.” The timing of that incident aligns neatly with a since-corroborated New York Times report that the president’s oldest son and other campaign staff met in person with Russian officials at Trump Tower in early June of 2016. The meeting came less than a week after a senior Russian government official sent Don Jr. an email promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Don Jr.’s name came up another time during Cohen’s testimony, when Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) asked about the illegal scheme the Trump campaign ran to keep the hush money payments secret.
In the criminal charges brought against him, Cohen admits to submitting fraudulent invoices to Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Foundation, to make the regular checks seem like simply payments for legal services rendered. Cohen acknowledged that the person identified only as Executive #2 in his criminal indictment was, as many suspected, Don Jr. He also acknowledged that Trump’s other adult son Eric would also sign his checks from time to time.
And then there’s Ivanka. The president’s eldest daughter has arguably done a better job than her husband and two younger brothers of avoiding public scrutiny, but on Wednesday Cohen reminded everyone that she is just as embroiled as the rest of her criminally enterprising family in the Russia investigation.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) used his time to probe for information about the Trump Moscow project, which has been a focus of the Mueller investigation. In his first appearance before Congress last year, Cohen told lawmakers that any discussion about a proposed multi-million construction project in Moscow ended well before the general election. The special counsel’s office quickly determined that was a lie. Cohen in fact had been involved in conversations about the Moscow project as recently as June 2016, after Trump had already secured the GOP nomination. On Wednesday, Cohen told Congress that among the Trump officials he kept abreast of those developments were Don Jr. and Ivanka.
The revelations from Cohen’s testimony prompted House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to announce on Thursday that his committee would seek interviews with many of the individuals named during Cohen’s marathon hearing, including Don Jr. and Ivanka.
Both of Trump’s children had previously told Congress under oath that they were never briefed about the Moscow project. If Cohen’s testimony to the contrary can be corroborated, both are at risk of felony charges for lying to Congress. And no legal scholar can make a reasoned argument that executive protections will save either from potential criminal prosecution.
If there’s a silver lining to be had for Ivanka and Don Jr., it’s that both remain a focus of the much larger Russia investigation; lying to Congress might end up being the least of their concerns.