Here are the basics of the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort situations—and what it means for Trump
August 21st was—to put it mildly—a terrible news day for Donald Trump. First, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty of financial crimes, including tax evasion. Then, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to similar financial crimes. But just how do these convictions relate to Trump, and what will happen now as a result?
Here’s what you need to know.
The Manafort ruling.
The New York Times reported that Manafort, who was being tried for 18 counts of financial fraud, was ultimately found guilty on eight counts: five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count for failing to disclose a foreign bank account. As a result, Manafort is facing years in prison. When it comes to the president, however, Manafort’s conviction doesn’t mean that Trump is guilty of colluding with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
As NPR pointed out, Manafort does owe money to Russian officials, but that doesn’t directly implicate Trump. That being said, the indictment (aka criminal accusation) could strengthen the argument that the Trump campaign was corrupt, and it also shows that special counsel Robert Mueller could uncover more crimes as he continues his investigation.
There have been rumors that Trump will pardon Manafort, which, Vox.com notes, would be legal. But doing so might not be a smart move politically. Some legal experts, like Laurence Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, have argued that this would amount to obstruction of justice.
And what’s the deal with Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer?
Cohen, meanwhile, took a plea deal in a New York City federal court yesterday, August 21st, pleading guilty on eight counts of criminal activity, according to CNN. Like the Manafort case, the charges against Cohen included tax fraud and false statements to a bank. But perhaps most significantly, he also admitted that he paid off adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal so that they would not go public with stories about their alleged affairs with Trump—at Trump’s direction. This is a huge deal, because Trump has previously denied that he knew about the payments, let alone asked Cohen to make them.
Because Cohen admitted that these payments were meant to help Trump’s chances in the election and because the amount was so large, the act was technically a violation of campaign finance law, as The Atlantic noted. And according to Time.com, Trump reimbursed Cohen for these payments through the Trump Organization, which could mean that Trump is also guilty of breaking federal campaign finance law.
So, what happens now?
These new developments are huge, and if Trump is found guilty of breaking campaign finance law or obstruction of justice, he could be impeached. However, it’s worth remembering that impeaching a president requires a majority vote in the House of Representatives, so it could still be very hard to do while Republicans are in control of the federal government. The Manafort and Cohen news definitely helps prove that key players in the Trump campaign were corrupt, and this could give Democrats an edge in the upcoming midterm elections.
For now, we can only wait for more updates and remember to vote in the 2018 midterms.