Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) In a setback to Donald Trump, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ex-lawyer Michael Cohen have been convicted of fraud, with the latter implicating the US President over campaign finance violations.
Within the space of an hour on Tuesday, Manafort was convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud by a jury in Alexandria, Virginia. However, Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial over the 10 other charges Manafort faced, with the jurors unable to come to a decision.
Meanwhile, in New York, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of his own, including campaign finance violations ahead of the 2016 presidential election as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Cohen, one of Trump’s closest associates for more than a decade, said he arranged to make payments “for (the) principal purpose of influencing the election” at the direction of a “candidate” for federal office.
He did not give the candidate’s name although he was working for Trump at the time.
The 51-year-old told the judge in the Manhattan courtroom that he was aware of what he was doing before pleading guilty to the charges, admitting that the “candidate” had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about their affairs with him, CNN reported.
Cohen admitted to paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 and also to conspiring with a media company, perceived as the publisher of The National Enquirer, to silence another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Both Daniels and McDougal allege that Trump engaged in extramarital sexual relationships with them. The White House has denied the claims.
Amid the parallel dramas in federal courthouses, the President was at first silent as he travelled to a campaign rally in West Virginia. But then he broke his silence after Air Force One landed.
“Paul Manafort is a good man,” Trump told reporters after reaching West Virginia for a campaign rally. “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.”
While pointedly refusing to comment on Cohen, the President stressed that Manafort’s conviction “doesn’t involve me” and called it “a very sad thing is happening”.
Trump also emphasized that Manafort’s legal woes had “nothing to do with Russian collusion, absolutely nothing”. He then segued into familiar criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, calling it a “witch hunt and a disgrace”.
The counts against Cohen included tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump.
On the other hand, Manafort was found guilty of five counts of felony tax fraud, one count of failing to report a foreign bank account, and two counts of bank fraud.
Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said that his client had been acting not on his own, but at Trump’s behest. “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?” he asked.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said of the Cohen plea: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Cohen.”
Manafort’s conviction brought the number of former Trump advisers who have pleaded to or been found guilty of crimes in the Mueller investigation to four. The other three were — former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos — who advised Trump on foreign policy — and aide Richard Gates.