After years of anticipation, the Special Counsel’s report on the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia was submitted to Attorney General William Barr on March 24th. This was big news. Since the discovery of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the “Mueller Report" has become a religiously-beheld beacon of hope for liberals and news pundits who have sought an explanation for how and why such a racist, sexist, and unqualified figure as Donald Trump became president. Indeed, campaign staff connections to Russian oligarchs, secret Trump Tower meetings, and the weird relationship between the President and Vladimir Putin haven’t made the Manchurian Candidate answer seem too implausible. But based on the summary of the Special Counsel’s report released by Attorney General Barr, it looks as though what was expected to be an enormous “Gotcha!" is going to fizzle like the many other scandals that have failed to shake this administration. Remember when people were talking about “grounds for impeachment" in reference to a pornstar?
Like the Special Counsel’s report, it appeared like Stormy Daniels was going to take Donald Trump down in 2018. In January of that year, it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had paid Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which could have been a violation of campaign finance laws. She had spoken to media sources of the affair before Trump had even announced he was running for president, but it was in October of 2016 (a month before the election) that Michael Cohen made the payment to Daniels as part of a non-disclosure agreement.
The White House described the scandal as “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election." But Daniels stuck to her story and publicly battled the Trump legal team over technicalities of the reported nondisclosure agreement for months. Finally, in August 2018, Cohen admitted in court that he made the payment to Daniels at the direction of Donald Trump. It was only then that Trump appeared on Fox News to say that he did learn of the payment after Cohen had made it (confirming the affair), but that reimbursement came out of his own pocket rather than campaign funds.
Even after the confirmation of the payment and Trump’s involvement, the impeachment discussion is murky. Trump would have broken the law if the payment was campaign-related, and if Cohen was an agent of the campaign. Cohen technically wasn’t on the payroll of the Trump presidential campaign, but he did speak on candidate Trump’s behalf and was generally involved with Trump’s legal affairs, including his bid for the presidency. Whether or not the hush-money was campaign-related is highly contested. An extramarital affair with a porn actress obviously might have influenced the opinions of voters, and the payment was made only two weeks before the election. Why didn’t Trump attempt to cover up the scandal at any other point after 2006? Many legal experts argued in his defense that the reasoning might be to save his family from public embarrassment, which would be personal and not campaign-related (Note: if Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels when she says they did, it would have been just a few months after his wife Melania had given birth to their son, Barron).
Per the ongoing John Oliver gag, it felt like “We Got Him," and then nothing came of it. Despite Trump’s lying to the public about the affair and payment, and the strong argument for criminal activity, the president has not faced any consequence over the Stormy Daniels scandal. Michael Cohen pleaded and was found guilty of campaign finance felonies (among other charges) and was sentenced to three years in prison. If the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s report pans out in the way that it appears it is going to, it will end in the same way: with Trump safe and those in his inner circle taking the fall for his administration’s nefarious actions.