In A Remarkable Legal Double-Whammy, Happening In Two Courtrooms Almost Simultaneously, Trump’s Former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort Is Found Guilty On Multiple Fraud Charges, While The President’s Former Attorney Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty To Campaign Fraud, Implicating The President In A Federal Crime
At a rally last night in West Virginia, Trump made no mention of either. On his arrival in the state, however, Trump stepped toward reporters to say he feels “very sad” about Manafort, calling him “a good man [who] was with Ronald Reagan”, and as usual, calling the Mueller investigation “a witch hunt and a disgrace”, while also as usual pointing out the charges against Manafort don’t “involve me”. He made zero mention of Cohen, who for years was one of his closest confidantes.
Here’s the clip in its entirety. Click on the photo to watch:
So Here’s A Quick Recap Of The Day’s Events:
Manafort: A jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty of 8 felonies. They are: filing false tax returns for each of 5 years from 2010-2014, 2 counts of bank fraud related to $1-million+ loans, and failing to file a form to disclose an overseas bank account.
The jury hung on an additional 10 counts, including other allegations of committing or conspiring to commit bank fraud, and failing to report other foreign bank accounts.
Manafort could be retried on those other counts, or not. A second trial for Manafort, on unrelated charges, is set to kick off next month.
Cohen: In a completely separate case, Trump’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to a laundry list of tax, bank and campaign fraud charges. Here’s a copy of the actual plea deal. But two of the counts attracted most of the focus. They dealt with willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution. Or in other words, paying the publisher of the National Enquirer $150,000 to buy and thereby quash the story of former Playboy model, Karen McDougal who said she had an extended affair with Trump, and paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her allegation of an affair quiet shortly before election day.
A statement made before the court as part of his plea stands out as perhaps the most damning, dramatic and defining moment of the day.
Cohen admitted that he did it: “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office….for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”
Why Is This All So Important And What Happens Next?
Manafort: We think the New York Times might be overly optimistic when it starts its main story on Manafort by saying his conviction brings “a dramatic end to a politically charged case that riveted the capital”. Because we think it’s just the beginning.
Trump’s really backed into a corner now, and will counter-punch. Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert Mueller gains huge momentum. Because while the President can and will continue to claim that he and his folks are victims of Mueller’s “witch hunt”, and that Manafort’s case had nothing to do with Trump or Russia, he’ll no longer be able to say the Special Counsel’s investigation has turned up nothing of import. (Well, he will, but it’s more easily disproven).
Will Mueller retry Manafort on the charges the jury couldn’t agree on this time around? Who knows? But it’s also not too late for Manafort to cooperate, unless he’s 100% sure Trump will pardon him, or that if he starts talking he’ll make a lot of people (or maybe just one person) in Russia really, really mad.
It’s also unclear whether the jury trusted the testimony of the government’s “star” witness, former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign officer, Rick Gates, or if they relied exclusively on the decisive and damning testimony of others, like Manafort’s former accountant. Manafort’s defense team attempted to paint Gates as an unreliable witness because he embezzled huge sums of money from Manafort (and perhaps the Trump inauguration as well). And perhaps part of the reason Mueller’s team brought this case to trial first was to assess how effective Gates might be as a witness in other cases where there’s less corroborating evidence. Remember, Gates stuck around the Trump campaign long after Manafort left: all the way through the inauguration.
Either way, Trump and the White House and Republican allies in Congress will continue to argue the charges against Manafort have nothing to do with the President. Example: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn: “[the verdict] doesn’t add anything to the allegations of misconduct relative to the Russia investigation.” Yet the walls do appear to be closing in.
Cohen: The case against Cohen was handled by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, not the Mueller team (although Mueller’s folks did generate the original leads, and then handed it off). And the plea is interesting because it covers a lot of bases. Sometimes in a plea deal, some of the more controversial charges are dropped in exchange for getting a guilty plea. That doesn’t seem to be the case here as Cohen pleaded guilty to a wide range of charges.
But as we mentioned above, the most damning might be his guilty plea to violating election finance laws related to Stormy Daniels ahead of the election after she claimed she had an affair with Trump, which remember as late as a few months ago the White House was decrying as completely false.
In case you were wondering whether Cohen had any lingering loyalty to Trump, here is a post-plea Tweet from Cohen’s attorney:
You’ll hear a lot of talk in the next few days about whether Trump, as a sitting President, can be indicted. That’s a lot of wasted breath unless something dramatic changes within the Justice Department which is currently operating under guidance that he can’t. You’ll also hear a lot of talk that even so, Congress can investigate and take action on its own. Also a lot of wasted breath unless something dramatic changes (like Republicans losing control of Congress in the upcoming elections), just because they won’t.
Representative Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee explains it in a Tweet:
(The OLC is the Office of Legal Counsel with the Justice Department.)
Whatever Comes Next, This Turned Into One Gleeful Day For Democrats And Liberals, And Heck, Decent Americans Who Finally Had Some Reason To Exhale…
We thought about leaving it at that. But there is at least one way we see this could all play out in Trump’s favor, and it’s something Steve Bannon suggested even before this verdict and guilty plea came down. It could mobilize Trump supporters more fiercely than ever before by turning this year’s midterm elections into almost a sacred mission to “save” Trump from the gathering storm.
This effect could be compounded if Liberals start feeling like there’s finally proof someone’s still out there looking after them that will make everything O.K. And as a result, it is less imperative that they continue to actively resist.
And we hate to keep repeating ourselves, but everyone who wants this country to return to being virtuous again must continue fighting, favorable verdicts and pleas or not. And there’s still only one way to do that in a meaningful, definitive way. Vote.