Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Michael Cohen implicated President Trump yesterday in the practicalities of violating campaign finance law — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the president will face any legal ramifications.

The big picture: Cohen admitted to breaking the law and said he did it at Trump’s direction. But making that connection stick may require more evidence than what's been publicly released so far, even setting aside the fact that the Justice Department's internal policy is not to indict a sitting president.

The details: Cohen pleaded guilty yesterday to two specific charges:

  • 1) Making an excessive campaign contribution (his own $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels).
  • 2) “Willfully causing” an illegal campaign contribution (arranging for the National Enquirer’s parent company to “catch and kill” Karen McDougal’s story about her alleged affair with Trump).
  • Although Trump wasn’t directly named, Cohen said he had acted “at the direction of” a presidential candidate. That candidate is Trump.

Campaign finance prosecutions are rare, and these are not the most common charges even within that context, said Rick Hasen, an election law specialist at the University of California, Irvine. But charges like these are not unprecedented.

The big question: Did Trump intend to break the law — and can prosecutors prove it?

  • “The big unanswered question is, what do they have besides Cohen’s word?” Hasen said.
  • Supporting evidence like text messages or (additional) audio recordings could help establish that Trump was looking after his political interests, rather than just his personal life.

The closest parallel is probably former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was prosecuted unsuccessfully in 2012 for allegedly using campaign money to cover up an extramarital affair and secret child.

  • One big difference, as former White House counsel Bob Bauer notes at Lawfare: The donors who contributed to Edwards were either dead or too old to testify. Cohen, on the other hand, is very much alive and able to appear in court.
  • Edwards’ lawyers argued that he wasn’t trying to conceal the affair to protect his political career, but rather to hide it from his wife. Trump could make similar arguments about the payments Cohen helped arrange, and proving his intent would be key to any prosecution.
  • “From everything I’ve seen, there are good defenses that the payments made by Mr. Cohen were made irrespective of Mr. Trump’s candidacy," Republican campaign attorney Charlie Spies told The Wall Street Journal.

What’s next: It’s not clear how we’ll find out whether prosecutors have any further evidence of Trump’s intent.

  • Because the payments to McDougal were routed through American Media Inc., that company or its leaders could be charged, and more information could come out that way, Hasen said.
  • The women’s civil suits could also dislodge additional information.

“Or we may never know — that seems unlikely,” Hasen said.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Social Democrats' win in Germany could shake up Europe

Olaf Scholz caught the bouquet on Sunday. Photo: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty

BERLIN Angela Merkel's political farewell was spoiled Sunday night when the Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly claimed victory in Germany's elections, just four years after suffering their worst loss since World War II.

Why it matters: The stunning political comeback could swing the balance of power in Germany leftward after 16 years of rule by Merkel's conservative bloc, and it could lay the groundwork for a more ambitious European Union.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans sink short-term government funding, debt limit bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Republicans on Monday voted down the House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: Congress is just 72 hours away from a potential shutdown, so now comes Democrats' Plan B. Democratic leadership is expected strip the short-term funding bill of language about raising the debt limit — the part that Republicans' reject — in order to pass a bill before federal agencies close down on Friday.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Laurene Powell Jobs' $3.5 billion climate campaign

Laurene Powell Jobs, president of Emerson Collective, is investing $3.5 billion in her new climate-action group, the Waverley Street Foundation — all to be spent in 10 years, as a way to show urgency on the issue.

  • Then the group will sunset.

The big picture: The foundation "will focus on initiatives and ideas that will aid underserved communities who are most impacted by climate change," an official tells Axios.