• Ideas
  • politics

I Was a Lawyer for Spiro Agnew. President Trump Should Consider Resigning

4 minute read

London is a retired partner for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and the author of The Client Decides; he was a principal lawyer for Vice President Spiro Agnew.

“In coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office… I participated in [felonies]… for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

—Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, pleading guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations on Aug. 21, 2018

That statement was made under oath. It was also backed by a charge made by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York — whose representatives, in open court, told the federal judge they had evidence to prove the accuracy of Cohen’s allocution, including tapes, texts, financial records and documents.

Our Article I representatives responded to this news, which implicates the President in a federal crime, disgracefully. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We will need more information than is currently available.” Senator Lindsey Graham — who as a U.S. Representative in 1993 urged for the impeachment of Bill Clinton by saying, “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic [as President], if [Congress] determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role… Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office of President” — made no mention of President Trump’s manifest dishonesty and association with a conspiracy to commit felonies to influence the election, themselves disfigurements upon the honor and integrity to the office of the President. Instead he said, “there have yet to be any charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government by any member of the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.” Majority Whip John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said, “this doesn’t add anything to the allegations of misconduct relative to the Russia investigation.”

But that is not necessarily true. Cohen is facing five years in federal prison, and his lawyer said he has evidence he is willing to share with Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding Trump’s knowledge and private encouragement of Russian hacking. Paul Manafort is also now facing seven to nine years for his eight felony convictions, and yet another trial in which he is being charged with, among other things, being a foreign agent (for a Russian sycophant) while serving as Trump’s campaign manager.

Given the exposure both Manafort and Cohen have to separate state crimes — New York State income taxes, other bank frauds and conspiracies — a presidential pardon would appear to be an inadequate remedy for either of them now, because federal pardons do not immunize state crimes. A pardon from the President would also be obviously self-serving and could amount to an obstruction of justice. Indeed, some legal experts have suggested that a pardon under these circumstances might be so corrupt as to be challengeable by an aggressive prosecutor. Bottom line, each has a great incentive to tell all to Mueller.

While things may appear grim, this is a great day for the Constitution. The Article I and Article II personnel have behaved disgracefully. But our Article III law-enforcement mechanism is doing its job.

This is half-time. We do not know what the Mueller investigation knows, what it has learned from Flynn, Popadopoulous, Gates, Van der Swan, Pinedo — who have all pleaded guilty. Nor do we know what, if anything, Michael Cohen has already told investigators. Or what White House counsel Don McGahn said in 30 hours of interviews with them. Or what Mueller’s team has learned from what we can sure is the scores, if not hundreds, of other witnesses they have interviewed. And, of course, there are the millions of tapes, computer files and documents seized in the Cohen raid, along with those handed over by Trump’s former lawyers.

Mueller can and likely will name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator on any case he brings going forward, if he abides by Department of Justice guidelines and does not indict a sitting president. And Trump needs to worry about his criminal liability (and that of his son and son-in-law) when he leaves office.

Impeachment aside, given all that the President now faces, does anyone in his camp have the courage to discuss a so-far unmentionable strategy? Do what we did for Spiro Agnew, and the country. Negotiate a deal: You end the Mueller investigation, and I’ll send out of a tweet: “No collusion, I did nothing wrong, rigged witch hunt, but this is bad for the country, and I am a patriot. So I hereby resign. Sad.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.