Donald Trump has suffered a huge double blow after one of his former associates pleaded guilty and another was convicted of financial crimes, potentially leaving the president himself in legal jeopardy.
Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer and “fixer”, pleaded guilty to eight charges including campaign finance violations and directly implicated Trump in paying “hush money” to women with whom he allegedly had affairs.
Just minutes earlier, Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, was convicted on eight charges of bank and tax fraud. The dual courtroom dramas set up a moment of rare peril for the president.
“This is the worst hour of Trump’s entire presidency – no, make that entire life,” tweeted Norman Eisen, a former special counsel to President Barack Obama for ethics and government reform.
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The outcomes also raised grave questions about Trump’s judgment. Since his election, his national security adviser, personal lawyer, campaign chairman, deputy campaign manager and a foreign policy aide have all admitted or been convicted of crimes.
The cases arose from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Tuesday’s events represent a significant victory for Mueller, who has been under pressure from Trump’s supporters to wind up what the president calls a “witch hunt”.
In New York, Cohen claimed Trump directed him to make payments that violated campaign finance laws in an effort to stop Stormy Daniels, the pornographic film actor, and Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model, going public about alleged extramarital affairs. In entering the plea, Cohen did not name the two women, nor Trump.
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, asked in a tweet: “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?” Whether or when a president can be prosecuted remains a matter of legal dispute. Trump has denied any knowledge of the payments at the time they were made.
The disclosure was made as Cohen, once loyal to Trump, pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations in a deal reached with federal prosecutors. He could get about four to five years in prison at sentencing on 12 December.
Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, said on Tuesday night that Mr Cohen was open to talking to Robert Mueller for his investigation, telling MSNBC: “Mr Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.”
Davis told MSNBC Cohen had knowledge of “the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election” as well as “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr Trump knew ahead of time about that crime.”
Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Virginia, after the fourth day of jury deliberation, Manafort was found guilty of bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account. The charges carry a maximum sentence of decades in prison. He avoided conviction on some charges, however, with the jury saying it could not reach a consensus on 10 out of 18 total counts.
Manafort faces additional charges in a separate case, to convene in Washington DC next month.
In Charleston, West Virginia, arriving for a rally on Tuesday night, Trump told reporters: “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. These are witch hunts and it’s a disgrace.” Source Link