By Frank Miles
Published December 09, 2018
Former FBI Director James Comey said Sunday in an interview that President Trump, if it's proved that he directed illegal hush-money payments to women, would be in violation of campaign finance laws, but he is lucky that the rule of the Justice Department remains that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
“I don’t know,” Comey replied to an MSNBC host at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, when asked if Trump is now an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the case of Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. “Not in the formal sense that he’s been named in an indictment. ... But if he’s not there, he’s certainly close given the language in the filing that the crimes were committed at his direction.”
In filings Friday, prosecutors in New York linked Trump to a federal crime of illegal payments to buy the silence of two women during the 2016 campaign. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office also laid out contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries, and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his Republican campaign by playing to his political and personal business interests.
In the legal filings, the Justice Department stopped short of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime. However, it said Trump told Cohen to make illegal payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago.
When asked if anyone other than a president were implicated in the way that Trump has been, Comey responded: “Well, that person would be in serious jeopardy of being charged.” He continued, “because the government wouldn’t make that sponsoring allegation if they weren’t seriously contemplating going forward with criminal charges.”
Comey added, “Now where it stands here, I can’t say.”
In separate filings, Mueller's team detailed how Cohen spoke to a Russian who "claimed to be a 'trusted person' in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign 'political synergy' and 'synergy on a government level.'" Cohen said he never followed up on that meeting. Mueller's team also said former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.
Multiple Trump associates, including Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Cohen, have pleaded guilty to lying about their interactions with Russians during the campaign and presidential transition period. Manafort's foreign dealings, including to an associate the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence, also have attracted law enforcement scrutiny.
Trump, who fired Comey in May 2017, has denied wrongdoing and has compared the investigations to a "witch hunt."
The president repeatedly has portrayed Comey and Mueller as exceptionally close as part of a long-running effort to undermine the investigation and paint the lead figures in the probe as united against him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.