Among President Donald Trump’s most compelling reasons to work as hard as possible to remain in the White House might be to stay out of prison, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday.
Trump is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator — “Individual 1” ― in the felony hush-money scheme that is sending his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to prison for three years. The statute of limitations for that crime runs out in five years, meaning Trump could escape prosecution if he wins re-election, under Justice Department guidelines that preclude indicting a sitting president.
“I’m sure that it has occurred to the president that there is a prospect that he may be indicted when he leaves office,” said Schiff, a California Democrat who took control of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in January after his party picked up 40 seats in last year’s midterm elections. “And the longer he stays in office and if he is able to avoid the statute of limitations by remaining in office ― that that is a consideration that has not escaped him.”
The White House press office did not respond to queries about Schiff’s remarks. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed she did not know about the checks that Trump wrote to Cohen repaying him for buying the silence of pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump — even though Trump signed the checks in the White House and a couple were displayed publicly when Cohen testified before Congress last month.
“I’m not aware of those specific checks,” Sanders said in a rare White House press briefing.
Schiff, who was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles before entering politics, said the existing guidelines should be changed to permit an indictment of a president, with prosecution deferred until he has left office, “particularly when there is any risk that the statute of limitations may allow a president to escape justice.”
He spoke to reporters near the Capitol at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He said he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement on Monday that Democrats should not try to impeach Trump unless the evidence was so overwhelming and so damning that a significant number of Republicans agreed with Democrats to move forward.
He said, though, that he doubted that would happen because too many Republicans have decided to support Trump no matter what he says or does.
“There is very little willingness to even acknowledge the impropriety, let alone illegality, by members of the GOP,” Schiff said. “The only thing worse than putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment is putting the country through the trauma of a failed impeachment.”
Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer for a dozen years. He pleaded guilty to a number of crimes last year, including lying to Congress about Trump’s hoped-for condominium tower in Moscow, as well as arranging the hush-money payments before the 2016 election to Daniels as well as to a former Playboy model. Trump reimbursed Cohen with a series of checks in 2017 to cover the $130,000 Cohen paid to Daniels.
Cohen was sentenced in December and will begin serving a three-year term in May.