President Donald Trump this morning tried to rally his supporters by claiming that his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is the victim of a biased prosecution because President Barack Obama “had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled.” Several of the president’s closest and most loyal media allies have pushed that nonsensical claim since Cohen pleaded guilty yesterday on eight federal charges including making illegal campaign contributions which he said came at Trump’s direction.
At 9:37 a.m., Trump tweeted:
But as New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore pointed out, these cases are by no means parallel:
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump also took Trump’s argument apart, calling it “entirely wrong.”
Trump may have gotten this bad-faith argument from one of the right-wing media figures who regularly run to his defense. Last night, Fox News’ Sean Hannity cited the Obama campaign fine in discussing a litany of “prominent liberals” who “committed similar crimes” but “didn't face the same consequences.” Trump is a regular viewer of the show, and Hannity and the president talk on the phone so frequently that White House staffers have billed the Fox host the administration's “shadow” chief of staff.
HANNITY: Oh, even the Obama campaign in 2008, they were hit with a mere fine which at the time was a lot, 375 grand for campaign reporting violations over $2 million worth. Cohen is now getting prison time.
He returned to the claim later in the show, saying, “You know, doesn't it happen every day, Andy McCarthy, that people that commit fraud on their taxes and people that commit campaign finance violations, Obama $2 million worth. Michael Cohen is about 300 grand. They only paid a $375,000 fine.”
Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett -- another Trump favorite and a regular Hannity collaborator -- also made the comparison on this morning’s Fox & Friends, saying that Obama “received $2 million in illegal campaign contributions; he paid a fine for it.” (In fact, as Confessore noted, it was Obama’s campaign, not Obama personally, which paid the fine, which related to failing to report contributions on time, not illegal contributions as Jarrett alleged.)
Trump apparently watched Fox & Friends this morning, as is his usual practice, though it’s unclear if his tweet came in response to Jarrett’s segment.
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who yields to no one in her eagerness to explain why every news event actually exposes the perfidy of the president’s critics, similarly wrote in a post this morning:
There is also some disagreement about how an undisclosed non-disclosure agreement, even if held to be a campaign contribution, compares next to other campaign finance violations. The Obama campaign, for example, had to pay a $375,000 fine for concealing major donors’ contributions in the weeks before the 2008 election, among other reporting irregularities. No media called for Obama’s impeachment over these violations, major though they were for the campaign he led.
It is unlikely that Trump is channeling Hemingway, as he famously does not read, but I’ve included it anyway because the “no media called for Obama’s impeachment” jab is in such hilariously brazen bad faith.
There are careers to be made in concocting nonsensical conspiracy theories to excuse, justify, and redeem the actions of the president and his allies. There’s money to be made in explaining that the actions of his foes are the real story. There’s a ready audience for dreck, and Trump is often one of the people buying.