Norman Eisen and Barry Berke, Democrats’ legal advisers, float Trump conspiracies in impeachment bid
The two special legal advisers hired by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have endorsed a wide view for charging President Trump with what could be impeachable offenses, an analysis of their writings shows.
On liberal websites late last year, lawyers Norman Eisen and Barry H. Berke depicted Mr. Trump as a criminal and a liar as they floated conspiracy scenarios.
They have said Trump people could be liable for charges related to Russia’s online election trolling. They also have said Mr. Trump or his associates could face charges for “aiding and abetting” Russian computer hacking.
Special counsel Robert Mueller so far has brought no such charges.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, signaled the pair’s influence in his investigation by personally announcing their arrival to the committee as consultants. If there are to be impeachment charges, they would originate with his committee.
Mr. Nadler already has stated that Mr. Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. On Monday, he announced that he sent document demands to 81 people and entities, most connected to Mr. Trump. They include the president’s two sons who run the Trump Organization, Donald Jr. and Eric. Most on the list are private citizens. Many of the issues have been investigated by Mr. Mueller.
Trump associates, weary of months of Mueller and Capitol Hill investigations, say the list is tantamount to a combined indictment and fishing expedition.
The two new legal advisers: Mr. Eisen is a former Obama administration White House attorney, and Mr. Berke is a longtime Democratic donor and white-collar crime defense attorney. They are associated with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
From the first month of the Trump presidency, CREW has peppered the administration with lawsuits. In January 2017, it sued Mr. Trump, alleging he violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution because his hotels at times host foreign government officials.
The Eisen-Berke tandem has written in unison attacking Mr. Trump over Russian election interference.
Their column for CNN in December asserted that there doesn’t need to be a “smoking gun” to prove Mr. Trump illegally colluded with Moscow.
“Despite Trump’s repeated denials, there is a growing chain of evidence that supports the offer of Russian help to the Trump campaign and acceptance of it, expressed or implied,” they wrote.
As evidence, they cite a Mueller filing in the case of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. It quotes a Russian contact offering the campaign “political synergy” during discussions in 2015 for a Trump hotel in Moscow.
To Eisen-Berke, any Russian business contact is possible evidence of collusion, as is the “political synergy” offer.
“Added to the numerous other political and business contacts between Trump associates and Russian representatives of which we are aware, this disclosure materially advances the collusion investigation,” the two wrote.
The “political synergy” comment came from a former Russian Olympic weightlifter named Dmitry Klokov, according to BuzzFeed. He emailed Cohen and said he could set up a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Trump.
Cohen didn’t pursue the offer, BuzzFeed said.
The Washington Times searched for news reports linking Mr. Klokov and Mr. Putin and found none.
In the December filing regarding Cohen, Mr. Mueller said discussions with Russians in Trump Tower remain a focus of his investigation. Cohen admitted to lying to Congress about when the talks ended. He testified that they stopped in January 2016, but they actually continued to June.
Trump supporters say that, through the Trump Organization, Mr. Trump has been involved in international land development for decades. He has negotiated with scores of foreign business people, some of whom are Russian. Though he has looked at projects in Russia, most notably the 2015-2016 proposal to build a Trump tower in Moscow, he has never consummated a deal there.
In a Brookings Institution post on Nov. 1, Mr. Eisen and Mr. Berke, with two other co-authors, suggested a number of conspiracy theories. The post, “Considering Collusion: A Primer on Potential Crimes” contained a 33-page report arguing that collusion exists.
They cite the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Through an intermediary, Mr. Trump Jr. agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Participants say the meeting was brief. The lawyer had no such information and instead put in a pitch to get rid of U.S. economic sanctions that were hurting her Russian millionaire client.
Mr. Mueller has brought no charges related to the meeting, which happened before Russians and their proxy WikiLeaks began posting Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian intelligence.
Lots of ‘crimes,’ but no evidence
Mr. Eisen and Mr. Berke see a potential crime and conspiracy.
“For example, if, in connection with the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the Russians and a Trump representative tacitly or explicitly agreed about the release or use of illegally obtained information, that could credibly support a conspiracy charge,” they wrote. “In fact, there is already enough evidence of this potential ‘collusion’ crime to warrant a searching review of those events, including the fact that within hours of the Russian offer of ‘dirt’ regarding Hillary Clinton in June 2016, Mr. Trump announced a major speech promising revelations about his opponent.”
They also see possible criminal charges against Trump associates relating to Russian trolling operations, in which Russian companies set up fake social media accounts to spew anti-Clinton charges and place political ads on Facebook.
Mr. Eisen and Mr. Berke argue that Trump campaign people could be charged if they used these media posts to seek votes in any way.
“If Trump campaign operatives played a role in these activities for example, by strategically advising the social media disinformation efforts carried out by Russian operatives, or planning speeches or other campaign events around that disinformation then the Trump campaign could also plausibly be a part of Russia’s broader conspiracy to defraud the United States,” they wrote.
Mr. Mueller has disclosed no evidence that any Trump person or any American knowingly participated in any Russian fake social media.
On Russian hacking, Mr. Eisen and Mr. Berke list several conspiracy theories: “If the Russians only informed the campaign about their plans to disseminate stolen emails after the hacking and the campaign took any steps to conceal the crime, that could constitute the separate criminal offense of misprision of a felony.
“If the president or his surrogates knowingly accepted something of value from the Russians, such as harmful information about his opponent, that could be an illegal campaign contribution by foreign nationals,” they wrote.
There has been no public evidence that either of these events happened.
On the issue of accepting foreign information during the campaign, conservatives view the Clinton side as colluding with Moscow through middlemen the investigative firm Fusion GPS and a foreign national, former British spy Christopher Steele, who produced the infamous anti-Trump dossier.
Financed with Democratic money, Mr. Steele collected all sorts of allegations against Mr. Trump from Kremlin officials and spread them to Washington reporters, FBI agents and the Justice Department.
The Brookings writers list six potential crimes against Mr. Trump and his aides, such as conspiracy to defraud the U.S., accepting campaign contributions from foreign nations and bribery. Their most supported argument appears to be the fact that Mr. Trump directed the payment of hush money during the campaign to two women who say they had affairs with the president.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance disclosure laws in a case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.
In announcing the Eisen-Berke hirings, Mr. Nadler heaped praise.
“We are fortunate to be adding the insight and expertise of two widely respected legal authorities to the staff of the House Judiciary Committee as we look to restore accountability, safeguard our democracy and protect the rule of law,” Mr. Nadler said. “This is a critical time in our nation’s history. The president of the United States faces numerous allegations of corruption and obstruction.”
He portrayed Mr. Eisen as winning bipartisan respect. He quoted former Rep. Mickey Edwards, Oklahoma Republican, as saying, “Norm has worked tirelessly to partner with Republicans and conservatives like me on issues of government integrity, accountability and transparency. His fairness and evenhandedness make him respected on both sides of the aisle.”