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The Shape of Prosecution

May 1, 2018

While there is little doubt that President Trump’s sometimes lawyer Michael Cohen faces indictment, the mystery remains as to what he may be indicted for.

Bill Girdner

By Bill Girdner

Editor of Courthouse News Service.

It is rare indeed that postponement of a civil case makes national news.

The reporters at Courthouse News understand that they need to cover any tremor in three matters, the prosecution of Paul Manafort in Washington D.C., the investigation of Michael Cohen in New York and the civil action by Stormy Daniels in Los Angeles.

The rest of the national press corps understands the same thing.

In postponing the civil action by the onetime presidential paramour, Judge James Otero noted that lawyer Cohen, who is central to the civil case, is likely to be indicted in a separate criminal investigation in New York.

The day before that ruling, Judge Kimba Wood in New York assigned a special master to review seized evidence in the Cohen matter and said she would consider a motion to intervene filed by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels.

“I have difficulty finding any flaw in Mr. Avenatti’s position,” said Wood, as reported by Courthouse News. “He just wants to be able to have a seat at the table.”

And on that same day that Wood ruled, Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington D.C. dismissed a civil action by Manafort challenging the authority of the special prosecutor who has brought criminal charges against Manafort in federal court.

The tie that binds, the nexus, for all three matters is the president and more precisely the flows of money around the president. Those flows of money are a prosecutor’s meat and potatoes.

But while there is little doubt that Cohen is facing indictment, the mystery remains as to what he may be indicted for.

I was considering the events that have whistled around the president like a wind storm around a tree, and tried to figure out what overall theories of wrongdoing they might fall into.

The simplest and cleanest is the $130,000 payoff of Daniels.

Given the timing, in the run-up to the election, there would seem to be little doubt that it served as an in-kind contribution to President Trump’s campaign. It was certainly not declared, and Cohen’s evasion as to the source of the funds serves as a kind of cat-nip to federal investigators.

So that would probably be the easiest and most obvious of the channels of prosecution, some kind of campaign law violation.

But there is also talk of Cohen’s foreign travels on behalf of Donald Trump before he was president.

This is a much murkier area for proof of malefaction. It would need to rely almost entirely on his electronic messages and stuff like plane tickets to show actions in a dark world of intrigue involving possible efforts by foreign actors to influence a presidential candidate.

Although nothing is outside the realm of possibility with this cast of odd characters, Cohen seems to be outside the shadow of the Russian effort to tilt an American election.

So chalk the foreign involvement up to the maybe category.

But there is a third rail of potential prosecution that I can only sense through the fog surrounding the investigations.

It definitely feels like money. It has shapeof money. The money flowing around Trump’s operation had to be sloppy, given the way the White House is operating, and it courses through a string of bankruptcies, cram-downs, hustles to establish and sell nothing but a name, a doubtful charity, murky foreign involvements and investments, beauty pageants and oligarchs.

Somewhere in there, fraud seems like a pretty good possibility.

But in what seems like the most amazing soap opera ever, we must wait for that indictment in New York to hear its tale of skullduggery.

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