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The plea deal Tuesday involving President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen makes Trump an "unindicted co-conspirator," says Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor now in private practice.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts in federal court, saying he made illegal campaign payments at the direction of "a candidate for federal office" — a candidate Cohen's lawyer says is Trump. The term "unindicted co-conspirator" was used by the Watergate grand jury to describe President Nixon's role in the scandal that ultimately cost him his presidency.
The plea deal has prompted the question: Can a sitting president be indicted?
"I absolutely see no reason why [Trump] could not be indicted," Akerman (@nickakerman) tells Here & Now's Robin Young.
On Cohen saying in his plea agreement he made payments during the campaign at the direction of "a candidate for federal office"
"Keep in mind, they did not name Donald Trump in the indictment. That's because the Department of Justice has a policy of not naming people in indictments who are not actually indicted. But it's pretty clear here based on the tape that has come out and other statements in the press, and by virtue of what Michael Cohen said in open court, that the other conspirator in this situation was Donald Trump.
"The real question is, are other people going to be indicted relating to this same conspiracy, relating to the payoffs to these two women?"Nick Akerman
"It also appears that there were other people involved in this conspiracy — it wasn't just Donald Trump. There were others that were involved in paying these phony invoices that were created to pay money back to Michael Cohen that he had put forward to [former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels]. So the real question is, are other people going to be indicted relating to this same conspiracy, relating to the payoffs to these two women?"
On why he says a sitting president can be indicted
"The argument that Bill Clinton made in the Paula Jones case was that he shouldn't be involved in a civil case while he's still in office because of the duties of the president, and the court rejected those arguments, basically saying that the courts could facilitate their schedule to the president's schedule. And in this particular case with Donald Trump, I mean his argument is much, much weaker.
"First of all, he has gone ahead and filed the lawsuit in federal court and submitted to the jurisdiction of the federal court in Los Angeles against Stormy Daniels, whom he claims he doesn't even know. And in addition, he spends so much time on the golf course that it makes it difficult for him to argue that he couldn't give up a couple days of golf to attend depositions or to attend discovery and sessions in a criminal court proceeding."
On if there's a point when the claim Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator would be formalized in court
"The only time a claim like 'unindicted co-conspirator' becomes formalized is when there is a criminal prosecution against other people charged with conspiracy, and the government has to list in a bill of particulars who the co-conspirators are. But clearly, based on the facts in this information that Michael Cohen pled to ... there can be little doubt that Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator in those two crimes."
This article was originally published on August 22, 2018.
This segment aired on August 22, 2018.
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