One of the early choices every 2020 Democratic presidential contender will face is how to react the first time the audience at a campaign event breaks into the chant “Lock him up.”
That day likely isn’t far away now that prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, in Donald Trump’s own Justice Department, have formally implicated the president in two violations of campaign-finance law by Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, who was sentenced to three years in jail on Wednesday.
Those allegations against Trump could add an extraordinary element of volatility to a 2020 presidential election that already looks poised to produce astronomical levels of both voter turnout and political polarization. The charges mean that, along with all the other combustible issues surrounding Trump’s presidency, another stark question could now be on the ballot in 2020: Does Trump face the risk of prosecution after he leaves the White House for actions he took to win the presidency?
Two factors are converging to ignite that debate. The first is the legal threat against Trump. In court documents last week, Cohen acknowledged his role in a 2016 plan to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the porn star and the former Playboy model who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, through undisclosed large payments that amounted to illegal campaign contributions. In those actions, prosecutors wrote, Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of” what the documents called “Individual-1,” meaning Trump. Compounding Trump’s jeopardy, on Wednesday the publisher of the National Enquirer acknowledged that it had paid off McDougal in coordination with Trump’s campaign.