Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, two men who have had close and long association with Donald Trump, were both convicted of federal offenses within minutes of each other, in separate parts of the country, on August 21. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was convicted of financial fraud. Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer,” pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, as well as other federal financial laws. Cohen and Manafort were each found guilty on eight felony counts, and Manafort be tried again on additional charges.
A jury in Virginia found Paul Manafort guilty on two counts of bank fraud, one count of failure to file a report of accounts in a foreign bank, and five counts of tax evasion. A mistrial was declared on ten additional counts. Prosecutors could decide to try Manafort again on those ten counts. Currently, he faces seven to nine years in prison.
It was known that even before his involvement in the Trump campaign, Manafort had extensive ties to Russia. He participated in the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian Lawyer, and was the only non-member of Trump’s family who was present. The meeting, we now know, was arranged with the expectation of obtaining incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times stated on Tuesday, “Mr. Manafort’s conviction was a win for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, if only in denying the president more ammunition for his campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller.”
Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, as well as to several counts of bank fraud and tax evasion. In the ever-changing narrative about whether Donald Trump paid “hush money” to an adult film star and a Playboy model with whom he allegedly had affairs to (Did he pay them off? Did he have Cohen pay them off? Did Cohen pay them off without Donald Trump’s knowledge?) Cohen’s guilty plea is significant.
The payments to the two women were made during the 2016 presidential campaign, and, as Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, stated, were made “for the principal purpose of influencing an election.” Not only did Michael Cohen arrange payments to the two women for their silence, he testified that he did so at the request of “the candidate…to shield him from politically damaging disclosures.”
Cohen has also stated that if questioned by Robert Mueller, he would “tell him the truth about Trump.” Davis has hinted that Cohen would have some “interesting” things to tell Mueller.
One would point out that neither Manafort nor Cohen have inspired faith that they would be credible witnesses in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump has already tried to discredit them, as he does with anyone who criticizes or bears witness against him. But Donald Trump himself is not known for his good relationship with truth, or with ethical behavior. (The Washington Post has kept tabs on Trump’s untruths, and they average nine per day.)
The convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen may be the first significant crack in the armor of Donald Trump’s strange appearance of invincibility. Donald Trump’s administration and inner circle are littered with people who have said and done unethical things. But, as NPR’s Domenico Montenaro writes, the convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort (were) “the closest Trump has been tied to something potentially criminal as president.”
Opinion | Is this the worst day of Trump’s presidency? | Washington Post [2018-08-21]
What to know about the Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort verdicts | Fox Business [2018-08-21]