A huge and potentially catastrophic day of news for Donald Trump continued Tuesday evening as his former campaign chair Paul Manafort was found guilty by a federal jury in Virginia on eight charges including tax fraud, failure to report a foreign bank account and bank fraud, just minutes after Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight similar counts in a federal court in Manhattan.
The Manafort jury, which had been deliberating for four days, also declared a mistrial on ten further counts.
Manafort, as a guilty verdict declared in open court, is the more significant milestone of the two events, as it is the first time a jury has had the opportunity to deliberate on the crimes being investigated by the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen, on the other hand, was much closer to Trump, and the fact that he decided to take a guilty plea today might imply that he is set to work with prosecutors.
The most dramatic moment of Manafort’s trial was the testimony of his former business partner, Rick Gates. Asked directly by the prosecutor if the two had committed crimes together, Gates said simply, “yes.”
Manafort, a former political consultant turned lobbyist, co-founded Black, Manafort & Stone in 1980 along with Nixon’s “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, a flamboyantly malignant political strategist who became a mentor to Trump.
Manafort developed a reputation as a lobbyist for some of the world’s most vicious and corrupt dictators, including Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos. But it was his relationship with Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, from which the charges against him arose.
During the trial, prosecutors described to the jury how Manafort had used money earned from peddling the influence of the pro-Putin Yanukovych in Washington to fund a lavish lifestyle, including the extraordinary purchase of a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.
The president has yet to comment on the news of either Manafort or Cohen’s guilt, though he is scheduled to appear this evening at a rally in West Virginia. But he has long protested that Manafort had nothing to do with Russian interference in the 2016 election, tweeting in August: “Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation.”
“These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”, the president added. He soon followed up that missive with another: “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?”
Well, Manafort is convicted now, and between him and Cohen there is no doubt that the Trump campaign was mired in criminality. The question is simple now: how close will the evidence get to the president himself?