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The Political Implications Of The Manafort And Cohen Court Cases

Aug 22, 2018
Originally published on August 22, 2018 10:14 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All morning we are looking at the cases of two Trump associates, both declared guilty of multiple crimes within minutes of each other yesterday. In Virginia, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted by a jury on eight tax and fraud charges. And in New York, the president's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to five charges of tax evasion, one of falsifying submissions to a bank and two counts involving unlawful campaign contributions. Let's take a look now at the political ramifications of these cases for the president and this White House I'm joined by NPR's Scott Detrow, who covers Congress and politics. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So the big standout here seems to be this guilty plea from the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, right?

DETROW: Absolutely. Throughout all of this, President Trump's response has been to call this a witch hunt, to say it has nothing to do with Russia, and it has nothing to do with him. Cohen's guilty plea blows a hole in that second key argument. This is not bank fraud or tax fraud from years ago. This is an illegal act being admitted to in a courtroom done during a presidential campaign that Cohen says he did in coordination and at the direction of President Trump. And that's the payments to two women during the campaign to keep them from talking about alleged affairs with Trump. So this is a big deal, and it draws President Trump directly into these proceedings.

GREENE: OK. And then you have Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman. And that conviction doesn't seem directly related to the president because this was a lot of Manafort's business dealings in the past. But this verdict could have some repercussions for the special counsel investigation, right?

DETROW: Yeah. We've looked at the polling over the past year as the Mueller investigation and Mueller himself have become increasingly more partisan, more and more Republicans becoming skeptical of this investigation as President Trump and Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies really attack Mueller day in and day out. So this, you could argue, was a really big validation, a big win for Mueller's team in a court in a challenging, complex case with a judge who, as we talked about, made it hard for them at times.

So - and again, going back to Paul Manafort, well, while these crimes did not have anything to do with the Trump campaign, we need to remember this is someone who played a key role in the Trump campaign at a key moment in the run-up to the Republican National Convention, where there was a lot of talk about whether or not there would be a push to take the nomination away from Trump. Paul Manafort is the person that Trump relied on. And as we saw in court yesterday, Paul Manafort had a lot of financial problems going on during that period.

GREENE: Has the president responded to any of this yet?

DETROW: Last night at a rally in West Virginia, he did not have a lot to say about it. Speaking to reporters as he got off the plane in West Virginia, he said the same thing he said before - this has nothing to do with Russia and has nothing to do with him. Trump former aide Corey Lewandowski spoke to NPR yesterday, and here's the argument he made.

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GREENE: The guilty verdicts that Paul Manafort received today predated his tenure at the Trump campaign. And moreover, if you look at what Michael Cohen has pled guilty to, those have nothing to do with collusion with the Trump campaign.

DETROW: So that's the argument you can expect to keep hearing from Trump and his allies. But again, these are guilty pleas, guilty verdicts in federal court. And whether or not it had anything to do with the initial investigation, I think legally is certainly beside the point.

GREENE: And if all this news hadn't happened, probably the big story we would be talking about today is California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter indicted. What's this about?

DETROW: Yeah. He and his wife are accused of using his campaign funds as basically a personal bank account and then covering that up, using it to play pay for mundane things like dental work to extravagant trips. This is the second House Republican indicted in recent weeks, along with Chris Collins from New York. These were the first and second House Republicans to endorse President Trump's presidential campaign, now both facing federal charges.

GREENE: Wow. All right. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.