Cohen pleads guilty, Manafort found guilty: A night of legal reckoning for President Trump

by Kathy Fang and Nicole Chen

A months-long series of F.B.I. investigations came to its climax yesterday night in what seemed to be a theatrically choreographed moment, as two men closely affiliated with the President Trump were convicted almost simultaneously of financial felonies.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty yesterday to illegal payments as well as breaches of campaign finance laws, admitting that he acted “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” when he negotiated financial agreements with two women to keep from publicly disclosing their affairs with Trump during the 2016 campaign.

At the same time, in Virginia, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud, with a mistrial declared on ten more charges. Manafort was brought to trial as a case in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian probe, although it is not yet clear whether any of his charges are directly connected with the Russian government.

The rapid stream of Cohen’s plea and Manafort’s conviction reveals alarmingly shadowy financial dealings within both the president’s inner circle and his support base, raising concerns about the president’s personal relationships as well as the ethics behind his business transactions.

Trump responded to Cohen’s guilty plea and Manafort’s conviction hours after the news broke at a rally in West Virginia, claiming that “this has nothing to do with Russian collusion.” He also expressed sympathy for Manafort, saying multiple times that he feels “very sad” for Manafort.

Tuesday’s events nevertheless place the president in a legally difficult position, as not only did Cohen’s plea almost directly implicate Trump but, with the midterm elections drawing closer, it also leaves Trump more vulnerable to attacks and therefore to impeachment if the Democrats regain a majority in the House in November.

Here’s a closer look at the trials of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort: