A jury found Paul Manafort guilty of eight charges related to tax and bank fraud. The jury could not reach a verdict on the other ten charges. Manafort’s lawyer noted after the decision that his client is “evaluating all of his options at this point.”
Manafort served, however briefly, as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. So, the news does not come as good news for the president. That said, the charges do not involve the president or the campaign.
Things went from bad to worse for Trump on Tuesday. Michael Cohen reached a plea agreement with New York prosecutors in a case referred to them by special counsel Bob Mueller. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, claims Trump directed him to issue hush payments to women alleging trysts with the billionaire. Some believe that such payments violate campaign finance rules.
While Manafort may decide to cooperate, the guilty verdict indicates that the best time for a deal has passed. But if you subscribe to the idea that Mueller’s people care about Manafort only to the extent it helps them get Trump, any time works as let’s-make-a-deal time. He still faces charges in the District of Columbia.
Cohen pled guilty but did not agree to cooperate per se. He did say the president instructed him to make the hush payments, so in a sense he has already cooperated. Paying shut-up money to women does not, on its face, seem to be a clear violation of campaign finance laws, particularly when the money does not come from campaign contributions. This does not mean Cohen does not pose an existential danger to the Trump presidency. He does, particularly when coming to grips with a Democratic House of Representatives united in impeaching Trump on whatever grounds offered. It just means that a judge may not take kindly to prosecutors ditching longstanding attorney-client rules in their zeal to nail the president, a jury may find the accusation unconvincing, and the American people might laugh off the idea of campaign-finance laws bringing down a president.
The good news amid all the very bad news? The president’s pursuers obsessing over Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission matters indicates the degree to which they came up dry on Russian collusion.