6:23 p.m. ET, August 21, 2018
This is 1st time since Watergate a US President has been accused of campaign finance violation, expert says
Lawrence M. Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission and a CNN contributor, said that Michael Cohen's plea marks the first time in nearly 50 years that a US President has been accused of being a part of a campaign finance crime.
“This is the first time since Watergate that a President has been accused of being personally involved — directing and coordinating — a campaign finance violation," Noble said.
Cohen’s under-oath admission — in which he said he violated campaign finance law "in coordination and at the direction” of Trump — holds specific and significant weight for the President.
“It’s unusual for a candidate to be personally liable” in a campaign violation, Noble said, “but if you can show that a candidate knew about the violation and knew about the act and participated, then the candidate can be personally liable.”
Typically, criminal prosecution would be likely in a case like this where there is evidence of a knowing and willful violation of campaign finance laws against corporate and excessive contributions, and at this large of a dollar amount.
“I think all three of those have definitely been met in the sense that this would be something eligible for criminal prosecution,” Noble said, drawing comparisons to the charges brought against former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in 2011.
This reading of campaign finance violations stops at the prosecutors’ desks, however, as they decide how to interact with standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.