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. Donald Trump: ‘worst hour’ for president as Manafort and Cohen guilty.
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.
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.