Steve Holland and James Oliphant –
President Donald Trump suffered twin setbacks on Tuesday with two ex-advisers facing prison sentences — and one of them saying Trump told him to commit a crime — possibly hurting his Republican Party’s election prospects and widening a criminal probe that has overshadowed his presidency.
Within minutes of each other in separate courts, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, while Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a range of charges.
Cohen also testified that Trump directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had had affairs with Trump.
The setbacks refocused attention on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow and whether Trump obstructed justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey, who was formerly in charge of the investigation.
Trump has denied collusion, calling Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt”.
Of the two latest developments, Cohen’s plea deal was the more troublesome, said those around Trump.
“A bad day for the home team,” said a source close to the president, who asked not to be identified.
The source said the legal woes could depress voter turnout and increase Republicans’ risk of losing their 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives in November’s congressional elections. “This hurts our mid-term prospects.”
A Democratic victory in November would limit Trump’s ability to push through legislation and increase the risk of calls for his impeachment.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said late on Tuesday his client was “more than happy” to tell Mueller’s legal team everything he knows about Trump.
Democrats pounced on the Cohen and Manafort cases, saying they bolstered their argument that the Trump White House was weighed down by scandal.
“The American people deserve answers regarding the president’s role in these corrupt and criminal actions,” said Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro.
Rodell Mollineau, a senior Democratic strategist, said the news “adds to a constant drumbeat that will ultimately affect some independent voters” and help Democrats at the polls.
“Manafort being convicted, on its own, might not sway any votes. But given the totality of criminality uncovered … it will be hard for some Republicans to ignore and even harder to explain.”
The long-term impact of the Cohen and Manafort cases will likely depend on how they affect the turnout of Republican and Democratic voters in November.
At a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday night, a relatively subdued Trump did not mention either the Cohen or Manafort case.
Instead, as supporters cheered him on, he made fun of his opponents’ focus on the Mueller investigation, saying they were desperate to find collusion with Russians.
“Where is the collusion? Where is it?” he said, mimicking his critics.
Josh McGrew, who travelled from Huntington, West Virginia, for the rally, called the investigation a “smear campaign” and said his support for Trump was unshaken.
“This is all about finding out anything they can in somebody’s past,” McGrew said. “They haven’t come up with anything in a year and a half, almost two years.”
Polling by Ipsos/Reuters has shown Trump’s job approval rating holding steady at about 40 per cent, even with Mueller’s investigation already bringing guilty pleas by several former Trump advisers.
The Cohen and Manafort cases were unlikely to erode Trump’s support from his political base or the Republican Party establishment, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“I don’t think there is any change at all,” said Sabato. “That’s the amazing part of it. — Reuters
Steve Holland and James Oliphant –