It was a shocking afternoon in legal and political circles as Michael Cohen, longtime personal attorney for Donald Trump, pleaded guilty on eight felony counts including violations of campaign-finance law. The campaign-finance charge in question is related, allegedly, to the Stormy Daniels payout of $130,000 from Cohen on behalf of Donald Trump. However, due to the way that Cohen pleaded, he is not directly implicating Trump by name in the process of such campaign-finance violations.
The Atlantic picks up the story and asks what this means for the President:
The plea on eight felony counts, entered Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Manhattan, is the culmination of an investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York that became public in April, when the FBI raided Cohen’s office, home, and a hotel room where he was staying. In reality, the story runs back even further, to payments that Cohen arranged in 2016 to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen has not agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but reportedly decided to enter a plea to save himself public exposure and the cost of defending himself.
If not for Cohen’s connection to Trump, Tuesday’s plea would barely crack the news consciousness—just another small-time white-collar criminal. But because Cohen was close to the president and worked at the Trump Organization from 2006 until after the election, the case has been closely watched as a possible augur of Trump’s various legal troubles. The most important takeaway Tuesday is that the president’s own former personal attorney pleaded guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws at his alleged direction.
The news probably could have been even worse for the president. Cohen’s decision to plead guilty without cooperation may be a relief for Trump. It could mean that Cohen decided he didn’t want to try to give prosecutors damaging information about the president, or that they determined he didn’t have any useful information to offer. (Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal notes that Cohen could still cooperate at later stages.) Either way, the plea deal means there won’t be a public trial where evidence about Trump’s payments to Daniels and McDougal would be revealed.
I emphasized the important part on the question of how this may tie to the President. At the moment, the issue remains with Cohen, but that could be temporary. We will know soon as things move forward.
On an entirely separate yet similar front, former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was found guilty today on eight counts of various fraud charges in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia. The story from CNN:
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes, a major victory for special counsel Robert Mueller.
But jurors were unable to reach a verdict on 10 charges, and Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on those counts.
Manafort was found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. He faces a maximum of 80 years in prison.
The news came at the same time Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was in a New York federal court to plead guilty to multiple counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not have immediate comment on the two actions.
“I don’t have anything for you on that,” she said.
Manafort was charged with 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts in the first case Mueller brought to trial as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The Manafort guilty verdict probably means less for Trump directly since the charges stem from Manafort’s dealings which predated his time working for the Trump campaign.
Both the Cohen and Manafort cases are ongoing and the sentencing phase for each of them are scheduled for the weeks ahead.