President Trump’s longtime personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen implicated him in a felony on Tuesday in federal court in New York.
Almost simultaneously, in a courtroom about 240 miles away in Virginia, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight charges primarily related to tax and bank fraud.
The guilty plea entered by Cohen and verdict for Manafort delivered a pair of legal body blows to Trump, who has been seeking to discredit the broader probe into allegations of Russian collusion led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The significance of Tuesday’s events was immediately apparent.
Even the conservative news aggregation site The Drudge Report, normally an influential and sympathetic voice toward the president, ran the headline: “Trump hell hour.”
NBC News anchor Chuck Todd called it perhaps “the most consequential day of the Trump presidency — yet.”
Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who has represented clients from both major parties, said that it was the worst day of Trump’s presidency, at least “from a legal standpoint.”
“It is the most direct tie to a criminal offense,” Zaid told The Hill.
The president’s legal team sought to minimize the significance of the dramatic developments.
In a statement, Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani addressed the Cohen plea deal saying, “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen. It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”
But that statement carefully side-stepped the fact that Cohen himself contends that there was wrongdoing on Trump’s part.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, emphasized that point in an emailed statement that he also shared on Twitter.
Davis said that Cohen “testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Cohen now contends that he was acting at Trump’s direction in facilitating pay-offs to adult actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 election. Both women allege they had sexual relationships with Trump more than a decade ago, early in his marriage to now-first lady Melania Trump.
Cohen told a Manhattan judge on Tuesday afternoon that the payments to the women had been made “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”
If true, that would amount to a violation of election law, a felony.
Some voices that are usually supportive of Trump expressed grave concern over the Cohen plea deal, which directly implicated the president in a way that the Manafort verdict does not.
“It looks very bad regarding Michael Cohen’s guilty plea,” said one GOP strategist with ties to the White House, who cautioned that the Manafort verdict “doesn’t really connect back to Trump.” BY NIALL STANAGE