Washington: President Donald Trump suffered twin setbacks Tuesday with two ex-advisers facing prison sentences – and one of them saying Trump told him to commit a crime – possibly hurting his Republican Party’s election prospects and widening a criminal probe that has overshadowed his presidency.
Within minutes of each other in separate courts, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, while Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a range of charges.
Cohen also testified that Trump directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.
The president has denied having affairs with the women. His lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said the payments were made to spare Trump and his family embarrassment and were unrelated to the campaign.
The setbacks Tuesday refocused attention on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow and whether Trump obstructed justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey, who was formerly in charge of the investigation.
Moscow has said it did not interfere in the 2016 election and Trump has denied collusion, calling Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.” Of the two latest developments, Cohen’s plea deal was the more troublesome, said those around Trump.
“A bad day for the home team,” said one source close to the president, who asked not to be identified. The source added that the legal woes could depress voter turnout and increase Republicans’ risk of losing their 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives in November’s congressional elections. “This hurts our midterm prospects.”
A Democratic victory in November would limit Trump’s ability to push through legislation and increase the risk of calls for his impeachment. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said late on Tuesday that his client was “more than happy” to tell Mueller’s legal team everything he knows about Trump.
Democrats pounced on the Cohen and Manafort cases, saying they bolstered their argument that the Trump White House was weighed down by scandal.