Just when you thought Michael Cohen’s sentencing hearing marked the end of his relevance to the cascading investigations into Donald Trump’s criminal scandals, it turns out he’s back in the headlines tonight – or at least his criminal case is. It turns out that, a week after SDNY succeeded in getting Cohen sentenced to prison, it placed a secret filing related to the case in a sealed vault. There are very few things this can be.
First, let’s be clear: the prosecution of Michael Cohen is over. Done. Kaput. So this can’t be a court filing against him. Instead it has to be against someone else involved in the SDNY case against Cohen. And based on the secrecy involved, which consists of the filing being “sealed from public view was placed in a New York federal court vault” according to CNBC, which broke the story, this has to be against Donald Trump. For that matter, this has to be an indictment or something similar.
So what’s really going on here? The most logical explanation would be this: after Michael Cohen said those famously damning things against Donald Trump during his sentencing hearing, the SDNY then took Cohen’s words to a grand jury and obtained an indictment against Trump. When an indictment isn’t intended to be immediately carried out, it’s placed “under seal” which usually means that it’s simply hidden from public view. In this instance it sounds like they literally sealed up the indictment, to prevent Trump and/or his minions from being able to destroy it.
Even as legal scholars debate whether an indictment against a sitting president is legally valid, there is nothing to prevent prosecutors from having a grand jury go ahead and indict a sitting president. The legal battle over its validity would take place once it were unsealed. So yes, the SDNY could easily obtain an indictment against Donald Trump right now. Placing it in a vault would ensure that it remained intact no matter who might get fired by Trump.
The question would then be whether SDNY and/or Robert Mueller intend to actually indict Donald Trump while he’s in office, prompting a legal battle in the process. Such a sealed indictment could simply be an insurance policy to make sure Trump goes to prison after he leaves office, unless he agrees to leave on Mueller’s terms – which would mean resignation.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report