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GOP fears Cohen set road to impeachment

Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Impeachment proceedings against President Trump went from a theoretical danger to a vivid reality with yesterday's guilty plea by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, sources close to the White House tell Axios.

The big picture: Cohen's guilty plea (with the president identified as "Individual-1") said Trump directed him to arrange hush money during the 2016 campaign to keep women from speaking out about affairs — so Cohen was accusing Trump of pushing him to commit a crime. Look for Cohen’s statement to form the basis of a 2019 impeachment attempt if Democrats win control of the House in November.

The plea by Cohen, paired in a split screen with the near-simultaneous conviction of Paul Manafort, is what Trump’s aides feared all along:

  • The Mueller investigation would lead these hardened investigators down rabbit holes that only Trump and his murky associates knew about.
  • The crimes detailed yesterday have nothing to do with colluding with Putin to throw an election — but are felonies, nonetheless.
  • And, in a stunning twist, the president’s former attorney — the guy who would yell obscenities at reporters and threaten them in the obsequious, unquestioningly loyal service of his boss — is now the greatest known threat to the Trump presidency.

Trump friends say for the first time that they're worried about the president:

  • A source close to Trump said: "I must admit a bit of concern about what he [Trump] would do fully backed into a corner."
  • "By striking a deal with Mr. Cohen that includes prison time," the N.Y. Times reports, "federal authorities were aware of the risk that the president might pardon him."
  • Maggie Haberman tweeted: "Trump folks are worried about impeachment more than before. ... Does not mean it will happen, but this has moved to a different stage in their minds."

Presidential historian Jon Meacham brings in the orchestra, telling MSNBC:

  • "This is rather like the third week of June, 1973, when [former White House counsel] John Dean went to the Senate and began his testimony" before the Watergate committee.
  • "It's not unlike ... the second week in July in the same year, when [former Nixon White House aide] Alexander Butterfield revealedthat there was a White House taping system."
  • "It's the kind of moment that you can begin to see a genuine inflection point."

A few hours before the verdict, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told me from Scotland, where he's attending a wedding with his son, Andrew, who has golfed with the president, that Trump has remained gregarious:

  • "It's certainly not affecting his golf game, or his negotiations about North Korea. ... He feels that people are finally getting to see his accomplishments. And public opinion each month — the whole thing has switched when it was originally very much in Mueller's favor, it's now somewhat against him."

Be smart ... A usually buoyant outside West Wing adviser suddenly sees darkness:

  • "Booming economy, robust bull market, troops in harm’s way but not in a large scale war. And yet the President is enmeshed in a series of scandals and controversies."
  • "And that is before the Dems in House start with the investigations" if they take the majority.

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