Liberals in glass houses can’t throw stones

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Tribune News Service

Michael Cohen, president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, walks on Park Avenue on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 in Manhattan. Columnist Kyra that verification of facts is a necessity.

By Kyra Sadovi, Columnist

“Schadenfreude” is the joy of seeing your enemies in pain. Any liberal, like me, has to admit that, in checking the news headlines, there’s a rush of that feeling when it comes to the Michael Cohen saga.

Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, found himself in quite the legal briar patch. As Robert Mueller’s investigation closes its talons on Cohen, raiding his office, hotel, home and seizing computers, cell phones, documents and more, it seems an appropriate time for Americans in general to reflect on how we are responding to the news.

In the course of dinner-table debates about the details of these recent events, it’s not unusual for someone like me, who knows next to nothing about the law or national security, to speculate on (indeed, sometimes fabricate) the minutiae of these stories in order to further her own point of view. Far be it from me to let my mother win an argument. But if there’s one lesson that we as a country have learned from the Trump presidency, it is that words (and facts!) are important.

One of the main criticisms of the Trump administration has been his affinity for bending the truth, explaining complex issues with childlike simplicity or downright lying about national issues. While Trump’s opponents are rightly upset about these tendencies, it’s important that we who criticize are not vulnerable to the same.

First, it’s time to address what exactly we know about the Russia investigation — that which sparked Mr. Mueller’s celebrity, or infamy, depending on your side of the aisle. Although there is ample evidence to prove that there was a meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., and a Russian lawyer in June 2016, it has yet to be proven that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer in question, has direct ties to the Kremlin. So while it’s tempting to say that Vladimir Putin has it out for American democracy, we really don’t have the information yet to prove that.

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    What we do know about her is that she is a relatively low-profile lawyer in Moscow, barring her representation of the defendant in a corruption case regarding U.S. sanctions against Russia — something that could very likely have been the topic of conversation during her meeting with Trump, Jr.

    While it is highly possible she passed on information concerning the Clinton campaign from a Russian source, attacking Putin and the Russian government is an impetuous course of action for the American public. A more real threat to the integrity of American democratic processes are various Russian companies and “troll farms” that had a hand in “depress(ing) turnout among blacks and Muslims, encourage third-party voting and convince people of widespread voter fraud,” according to an Economist article.

    Another instance in which Trump critics have to get our facts straight is the entire plot of the Stephanie Clifford story. This name would be fairly unfamiliar to most Americans, because most people and media outlets have been referring to her by her professional name: the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

    The very fact her real name is not well-known by the general public seems to be a darkly humorous metaphor for the level of attention paid to information and word choice when it comes to the discussion of these important issues. The Clifford case is more than fitting.

    The story here is not the voyeuristic tale of porn, sex and bribery it appears to be on a number of news outlets, but rather a serious potential violation of campaign finance laws. As a state with a gubernatorial race shaping up to be the most expensive election in United States history, we here at the University (the state’s flagship public educational institution) should be paying especially close attention to the (albeit sometimes-tedious) legal details.

    At issue here is Cohen’s $130,000 payment, deemed “hush money” by some, to Clifford. According to an NPR interview with Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, that payment could count as a campaign contribution.

    “If Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels, and it was done for the purpose of stopping her to talk about this during the election, then it was an excessive contribution by Michael Cohen,” said Noble. “And the campaign should have reported it as a contribution by Cohen and as an expenditure by the campaign.”

    The FBI is also investigating possible bank and wire fraud on the part of Cohen.

    This egregious violation of campaign finance laws is worrying, indeed. The facts up to this point have been quite incriminating for both Cohen and President Trump, both in the case of the Russia investigation and in the case of Ms. Clifford. But as liberals in our glass houses, we can’t take any chances throwing stones. Let’s be more conscious of the facts we are using, and their merit, the next time President Trump does something that adds to our ire during dinner-table debates.

    Kyra is a freshman in LAS.

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