08.22.18

Leahy Floor Statement On The Guilty Plea Of Michael Cohen And Conviction Of Paul Manafort

There have been a number of headline-grabbing days during the first 18 months of the Trump administration.  Yesterday will likely rank among the most extraordinary.  And among the most troubling.

The President of the United States was effectively identified by his longtime lawyer and confidant as an unindicted co-conspirator in their efforts to commit criminal campaign finance violations.  If true, then-candidate Trump arranged payments to two women he had affairs with in violation of federal law in order to keep those affairs hidden from the American people at a most critical time, days before the election. 

Further, last night the lawyer for Mr. Cohen claimed that his client also has information relevant to whether President Trump had advance knowledge — and even supported — the hacking of Democratic electronic files.  That crime, which we know was committed at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, serves as a basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Also yesterday, within minutes of Mr. Cohen entering into his guilty plea, a jury found the President’s former campaign manager guilty of numerous tax- and bank-fraud charges.  Paul Manafort will now face a separate trial concerning his work for a Putin-connected oligarch both in Ukraine and here at home.  In this second trial, scheduled to begin next month, Mr. Manafort has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent, and money laundering, among other charges.

The clouds of criminal conduct surrounding those close to the President are darkening.  Directly or indirectly, his campaign manager, personal attorney, and multiple aides have now been swept up in the Special Counsel’s investigation.  This probe has resulted in numerous guilty pleas and 34 criminal indictments. And it is not complete.

It is crucial that the Special Counsel be permitted to complete his investigation, and to do so without the daily — often hourly — interference from the President.  During my four decades in the Senate, I have never before seen an investigation led by career, apolitical law enforcement officials so personally and publicly maligned by a politician — let alone by the President of the United States.  No one is above the law.  And the President should stop acting like it.

I would also urge the Majority Leader to immediately bring the bipartisan legislation to protect the Special Counsel to the Floor.  Anyone who says that the President can be trusted to not undermine the Special Counsel has clearly not been paying attention.   

It is equally critical that the Senate reassert its oversight responsibility over the Executive Branch.  If these were normal times, the Senate Judiciary Committee would immediately pursue an investigation.  Indeed, the Judiciary Committee is uniquely situated to investigate the allegations raised by Mr. Cohen.  The Committee has jurisdiction over our criminal laws, including campaign finance laws.  Mr. Cohen’s lawyer has indicated that he is willing to testify before Congress without even being granted immunity.

It is difficult to reconcile the Judiciary Committee’s inaction here with its race to confirm President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.  The timeline that Republicans are pursuing to consider Judge Kavanaugh is so aggressive that it will sideline the nonpartisan review of the nominee’s record performed by the National Archives, which has occurred for every Supreme Court nominee since Watergate. 

The Russia investigation is the most pressing national security investigation of our time.  History will judge us harshly if we collectively shrug our shoulders and disregard our constitutional responsibility to oversee the Executive Branch in this moment.  We represent a coequal branch of government.  It is time we act like it.

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