President Donald Trump has made it clear that the once-close friendship between himself and his former lawyer Michael Cohen is officially and completely over.
On Wednesday, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that New York state investigators issued a subpoena to Trump's former fixer, as part of their investigation of the Trump Foundation.
Trump took to Twitter to unleash his rage against a man who had once been one of his closest associates.
"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump wrote in one tweet.
"I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. 'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!" Trump wrote in another tweet, that one referencing his former campaign chairman who was found guilty on eight counts of various financial crimes.
Trump went on to defend Manafort even further, arguing in a tweet that "a large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!"
Finally, Trump closed with this tweet: "Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!"
It's important to remember that Trump isn't simply reacting to what he no doubt perceives as the betrayal of a close friend. Although the Manafort verdict did not directly tie into anything Trump had done during his presidency, Cohen's guilty plea very much does. He has been accused of violating various financial laws in order to pay hush money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the future president, including former Playboy model Karen McDougal and former porn star Stormy Daniels.
Not surprisingly, Democrats jumped on the Cohen news in order to draw attention to potentially serious offenses involving the president himself, as The New York Times reported:
“This is getting deeper and deeper, and it’s going to get more and more serious,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Asked about the potential for an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Nadler said he wanted to see more evidence.
“We need to see what Mueller comes up with,” he said, referring to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice. “We may get there.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, broached the charged phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment.
The Times also pointed out how a number of Republicans have been shrugging off the Cohen news.
"Campaign finance violations — I don’t know what will come from that, but the thing that will hurt the president the most is if, in fact, his campaign did coordinate with a foreign government like Russia. Anything short of that is probably going to fall into partisan camps," Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters. Although Graham had helped prosecute President Bill Clinton during the impeachment trial of the 1990s, he has been slower to move against Trump, although he has still emerged as one of the president's most vocal critics in Congress.
"I have no idea about what the facts are surrounding his guilty plea other than the fact that none of it has anything to do with the Russia investigation. I would make the same observation with regard to Mr. Manafort," Senator John Cornyn of Texas told reporters.
In a sense, neither side is right. Democrats should not embrace Cohen's guilty plea or the Manafort verdict too readily, at least when it comes to the prospect of unseating Trump. The former is meaningless unless Cohen is able to produce proof that Trump deliberately colluded with the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton (Cohen's word will not be enough; irrefutable evidence alone will suffice). As for the Manafort verdict, while it provides Mueller's team with leverage that they can use to gain information about Trump from his former campaign head, in and of itself it proves nothing other than that Manafort broke a number of unrelated financial laws.
Yet Republicans would be premature to count their blessings either. For one thing, the fact that Manafort and Cohen have both been determined to have been guilty — one by a jury's verdict, the other by his own admission — is very ominous for Trump. Presidents usually encounter some measure of scandal when they're in office, but it is exceptionally unusual for their closest advisers to be proved to have committed crimes. That in its own right looks bad for the president — and, perhaps more importantly, makes it harder for him to convincingly argue that the accusations against him are entirely without merit.
More important, though, is the fact that Manafort and Cohen are just appetizers. The fact that the special counsel's office has been able to make progress with them means that they are succeeding in reaching whatever goals they may have in terms of proving crimes were committed by Trump himself. To use Trumpian parlance, it means that Mueller's team is "winning" and Trump's team is "losing" right now, despite the fact that the game is far from over yet.
When all is said and done, the factor that will most likely determine the future of Trump's presidency is the degree to which partisanship can be overcome in the name of justice. If Trump is found to have committed no crimes, then the subject becomes moot. If, on the other hand, Trump is found by Mueller to have committed crimes, it will fall on Congress to impeach him (in the House of Representatives) and then remove him from office (in the Senate). While the former will be possible if Democrats retake the House of Representatives in November, the latter will require at least some Republican senators to defect from the party line and vote to remove Trump from office; even if Democrats completely sweep in the 2018 Senate races, they can still rely on at most 57 votes to back ousting Trump.
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Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC. MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa
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