Last night Donald Trump’s odds of avoiding prison suffered a bodyblow when CNN reported that Michael Cohen witnessed Trump signing off on Donald Trump Jr’s meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians, and that Cohen is willing to testify about it. This demonstrates that Trump was illegally conspiring with the Russians against Hillary Clinton during the election, and it sharply increases the odds that Trump will see the inside of a cell. But it also guarantees that Donald Trump Jr will go to prison.
Why does this change the prison math for Donald Trump Jr? There are two entirely different angles here. The first is that Junior just lost his deniability. He wasn’t technically a campaign adviser, and he might have been able to argue that when he took the meeting with the Russian government in the hope of obtaining dirt about Clinton, he didn’t know that accepting such a foreign “gift” was a felony. Would this argument have gotten him off the hook with a jury? Probably not, but it’s what he would have argued.
Michael Cohen’s testimony means that Donald Trump Jr was in fact acting on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign when he took this meeting, because he made a point of getting the candidate’s approval beforehand. Because Junior was indeed acting on behalf of the campaign, it means he had a legal responsibility to know how federal campaign law applied. This may sound legally complex, but the second angle is more straightforward.
By all accounts, Donald Trump Jr testified to Congress under oath that he didn’t tell his father about the Trump Tower meeting beforehand. Now we know differently. This means that Junior committed perjury, and that there’s a witness – Michael Cohen – who’s willing to testify that Junior committed perjury. So even if Donald Trump Jr mounts a sophisticated legal defense against the complex crime of illegally conspiring with the Russians, he’ll have no way of defending himself against the perjury charge. He’s going to prison.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report