Manafort is Trump's silent hero
A day after a jury of 12 Americans found Paul Manafort guilty of eight felony charges, including tax fraud and bank fraud, President Donald Trump wanted everyone to know how proud he is of his onetime campaign chairman, now facing a long stretch in federal prison.
"Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!" Trump tweeted, seeming to encourage a code of omertà (o-MAGA?) from those ex-associates turned defendants who might feel squeezed to turn on him.
Though the jurors heard 12 days of trial testimony and deliberated four days to reach unanimous agreement that Manafort committed financial crimes in the millions to underwrite a lavish lifestyle, Trump professed to be unimpressed with special counsel Robert Mueller's trial win.
"I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family." "A 12 year old tax case." (It actually covered the tax years from 2010 to 2016.) "Witch hunt."
Trump's outpouring of sympathy prompted renewed questions over whether he might pardon Manafort, who unlike others in Mueller's crosshairs has so far refused to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation and dish about Trump and his inner circle. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was "not aware of any conversations" at the White House about one. But Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt said Trump told her in an interview on Wednesday that "he would consider" pardoning Manafort.
Cohen, who implicated Trump as co-conspirator for campaign-finance crimes in a guilty plea Tuesday, is signaling through his lawyer, Lanny Davis, that he has information Mueller would want for the Russia investigation.
"It’s my observation that Mr. Cohen has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about the issue of whether Donald Trump, ahead of time, knew about the hacking of emails, which is a computer crime," Davis told CNN.
As for a pardon, Davis said Cohen doesn't want one. Once Trump's loyal, self-described "pit bull," Cohen now "considers a pardon from someone who acted so corruptly as president to be something he would never accept," Davis said. Not that there seemed to be much of a chance now that Trump would grant one. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
A cry for Yelp
Trump displayed rare gallows humor in a tweet that resembled a professional-services review:
"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!"
White House advisers say Trump has been unusually subdued since the dual blows of Manafort's conviction and Cohen's plea, The New York Times reported.
“We started with collusion,” he mused, several people told the Times. "How did we end up here?”
Art of the what-the-big-deal?
Staying on the thematic trail blazed by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani's declaration that "truth isn't truth," Trump argued that crime isn't crime.
"Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime," he tweeted.
Wrong. Regardless of how good or bad a lawyer he is, Cohen copped to two felonies, each carrying maximum possible sentences of 5 years in prison. Those are crimes.
In a Fox News interview, Trump said the payments to the women who claimed to have had affairs with him weren't "even a campaign violation" because the payments "came from me" and "didn't come out of the campaign."
That's wrong, too. As CNN explains, you can't pay out big money to silence people with damaging allegations right before an election and then never report it.
Asked why Trump didn’t report his payments, Sanders said she wouldn’t “get into the back-and-forth details.” She kept saying that Trump did "nothing wrong."
What about Obama?
Trump also complained "President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!" That was about the Obama campaign in 2012 — like the Trump campaign in 2016 — getting cited by the Federal Election Commission for inadvertent violations such as blowing reporting deadlines. Willfully making and concealing hush-money payments are in a different league — a criminal one.
Trump suggested he was getting treated differently because Obama "had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently." That sounded like a new complaint about his AG, Jeff Sessions.
Trump also claimed he only found out "later on" about payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. But Cohen has produced a recording of his discussion with Trump about the McDougal arrangements. The president's story, as well as Cohen's, has changed constantly several shifts since news of the payoffs broke in January. Cohen said in court Tuesday that the money was paid at Trump's "direction."
Lawyer Davis is trying to make over Cohen's post-Trump image from that of a menacing legal goon to a selfless patriot who is ready to "tell the truth" about Trump and "put his country first." That was Davis' pitch for a GoFundMe drive that has been set up to help pay Cohen's legal fees.
When Davis plugged the fundraising campaign on an NBC "Today" segment hosted by Megyn Kelly, there was laughter from the studio audience. But in the first 20 hours, the "Michael Cohen Truth Fund" raised more than $120,000 toward a $500,000 goal.
Elsewhere on the charity front, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration subpoenaed Cohen as part of a multiagency probe into possible tax violations by the Trump Foundation, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.
The subpoena was issued after Davis said on CNN of his client: “I do believe that he has information about Mr. Trump that would be of interest both in Washington as well as New York state.” Cohen personally called the Tax Department to talk after receiving the subpoena, a Cuomo administration official said.
Who is he to judge?
Senate Democrats said Cohen's guilty plea and its legal implications for Trump mean the Judiciary Committee should postpone its confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, now set to begin Sept. 4.
"At the very least," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), "it is unseemly for the president of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court justice who could soon be effectively a juror in a case involving the president himself." Part of their concern is Kavanaugh's past expressions of high deference to presidential power.
Republicans indicated they are going ahead as scheduled.
What else is happening:
- The rival parties are trying to figure out what impact the Cohen and Manafort cases will have on the midterm elections, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. From some Republicans came predictions that Trump's base won't desert him or the GOP. But Schumer said it's an issue that will stick. “There is now an unmistakable, sinister hypocrisy to President Trump’s campaign slogan: ‘drain the swamp,’” he said.
- Manafort’s conviction for tax and bank fraud Tuesday didn't cost him his sprawling Bridgehampton estate, but he could forced to forfeit that home and his other New York properties if found guilty on other charges in a trial set for next month that includes money-laundering allegations, reports Newsday's Emily Ngo. The second trial is expected to address allegations that he wired money from offshore accounts to buy properties in the U.S.
- Within the last day or two, Cohen deleted an old lock-her-up-flavored tweet about Hillary Clinton. The posting on Dec. 19, 2015, said: "@HillaryClinton when you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!”
- Porn star Daniels, whose decision to end her silence over her Trump affair story and the payoff ignited the case that has shaken Trump's world, tweeted: “How ya like me now?!”
- Democrats in Congress have a plan in waiting if Trump moves to fire Mueller, NBC News reports, It includes enlisting Republicans who have been quietly sympathetic to pass emergency legislation to protect Mueller and his files, as well as organizing nationwide protests.
- Trump is upset that Giuliani has been golfing in Scotland this week amid the Manafort and Cohen developments, according to The Wall Street Journal. Speaking to a Washington Post reporter from a golf course, Giuliani said he conferred with Trump by phone and they think Mueller “might be at the end now. He has to be winding down. What else is there?”
- A Washington judge threw out a defamation suit by three Russian bankers against Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who compiled the Russia dossier. Judge Anthony C. Epstein ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove Steele was aware that some information in the dossier was incorrect or that he acted "with reckless disregard as to its falsity."