Two harsh blows for Donald Trump: the conviction of his former campaign chief, who was accused of fraud and tax evasion, and the president’s former attorney confessing to campaign finance violations.
The latest developments in the “Russiagate” investigation resulted in two harsh blows for Donald Trump in a matter of a few hours. His former campaign chief was found guilty of financial fraud, and his former personal attorney pleaded guilty to violating election laws by paying a porn star for her silence about her relationship with Trump.
Paul Manafort, who led Trump’s election campaign, has been convicted. The trial ended with a jury verdict finding Manafort guilty on eight counts. This trial does not directly involve the president of the United States. Manafort was indicted for hiding millions of dollars in various bank accounts abroad, evading taxes and committing bank fraud to obtain $20 million in loans.
The conclusion of the trial, however, is considered an important test for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director heading the investigation into “Russiagate.” In his role as a public prosecutor responsible for the preliminary investigation into “Russiagate,” Mueller has scored by successfully completing his prosecution of Manafort, an important fact in light of the constant attacks Trump has leveled at him.
The other turning point concerns Michael Cohen, who was Trump’s “factotum” lawyer for years, the one who managed the real estate tycoon’s hassles. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in Manhattan federal court, acknowledging that he paid off the porn star known as Stormy Daniels. Trump’s former personal lawyer then admitted that the payment was made “at the direction of a candidate for federal office” to buy the silence of the woman who had a brief relationship with the New York real estate businessman.
Even though these two developments are damaging for the president, neither concerns the main course of inquiry into “Russiagate,” i.e., the possibility that Trump and Vladimir Putin may have colluded to denigrate Hillary Clinton and influence the election, and then the possible obstruction of justice when Trump fired the FBI director investigating Russia’s interference.
Even before these two blows, Trump resumed his attacks against Mueller over the last weeks by labeling his investigation “a hoax, “a witch hunt” and “fake news.” The president’s irritation is fueled by the rapidly approaching moment when Mueller will question him personally. Trump’s lawyers have already tried to put barriers and obstacles in the way of such an event that is rife with risks.
For now, neither Manafort’s verdict nor Cohen’s admission of guilt are relevant for the purposes of impeachment. Manafort’s frauds do not entail any direct responsibility by the person who hired him. As for Cohen’s crime, campaign finance violations are not sufficient to trigger impeachment. The president’s attorney’s most pressing fear is that Trump may get himself into trouble by lying under oath or involuntarily offering Mueller evidence that he tried to obstruct justice.
Given the precedents of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, it can be said that the attempt to conceal the crime is more damaging than the crime itself. Trump’s verbal outrage and his habitual lying constitute traps along the road from here to the end of the investigation. All of this will reignite speculation about the possibility Trump would take outrageous steps such as firing Mueller (who is appointed by the Department of Justice) or pardoning himself. As for the possible start of impeachment proceedings, much will depend not only on Mueller’s conclusions, but also on the balance of power in Congress after the midterm elections.