Tuesday was not a good day for President Donald Trump. Two of his closest associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, had their day in court and are now both facing time in prison.
Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes that ranged from campaign finance violations to tax evasion. Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, was found guilty by a Virginia jury on eight separate charges related to tax evasion and bank fraud. He still has to be retried on the remaining 10 charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team because the jury was deadlocked. Next month, he will be on trial again in D.C. where he is facing seven additional charges of ranging from conspiracy to defraud the United States to failing to register as a foreign agent. (All of Manafort's charges stem from findings of the Mueller investigation, but due to the nature of the crimes Manafort had a right to separate trials.)
Trump held off on commenting on the news on Tuesday, mostly avoiding the topic during a campaign rally in West Virginia. (Though he did smile as the crowd engaged in some chants of ' "Lock her up!"a reference to Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly been cleared of criminal wrong-doing. )
On Wednesday, however, he sent a series of tweets bashing Cohen and praising Manafort. He wrote: "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. 'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!"
The Republican Party, meanwhile, is reeling. Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post obtained a list of GOP talking points regarding the convictions, which reveal how the party plans to spin the news in the coming days. Among other things, they hone in on how "there's no allegation of wrongdoing" against Trump — which isn't true — and that the latest convictions are unrelated to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Which is at least closer to the truth. Kind of.)
So: What is the truth? Ahead, everything you need to know about Cohen and Manafort's legal drama, and how it might impact Trump.
Cohen pled guilty — and threw Trump under the bus
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes that took place between 2012 and 2016: five counts of tax evasion; a count of giving a financial institution a false statement; one count of being a “willful cause” of an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution. Though he could face up to 65 years prison, it's more likely that because of his plea deal he will only serve three to five years.
Two of those counts — being a "willful cause" of an unlawful corporate contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution — are related to the "hush money" payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in 2016, both of whom allegedly had an extramarital relationship with Trump in the mid-2000s.
The most shocking disclosure he made was to admit that a "candidate for federal office" instructed him to pay off Daniels and that the campaign helped coordinate both payoffs. This candidate, of course, is none other than Trump. Although his name was not mentioned explicitly in open court, the court documents make this undeniable: They refer to the "candidate" as "Individual-1, who at that point had become the President of the United States."
Trump still denies the affairs ever took place.
One of the ways the president tried to spin Cohen pleading guilty to campaign donations was to bring up something that happen with the Obama campaign in 2008. He tweeted: "Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!"
Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Trump seems to be referring to a $375,000 fine against the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama. The difference is that the Obama campaign unknowingly violated the law by failing to file a 48-hour notice to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for raising about $1.8 million in donations during the last 20 days before that year's election, while Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance laws to pay off two women who were romantically involved with Trump in exchange for their silence. Cohen also admitted to knowingly breaking the law.
Manafort was convicted on eight charges, but his troubles might be just starting
It is true that Manafort’s trials are not directly related to the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. But all the charges are still important. After all, Manafort is the former campaign chairman of the sitting president and he has been convicted of several federal felonies.
Beyond that, of the eight charges that he is now convicted of committing, all were financial crimes related to money made while he worked as a consultant for Ukrainian politicians that identify as pro-Russia: five counts of tax fraud; one count of not reporting his foreign bank accounts; and two counts of bank fraud.
Even without his retrial for the remaining 10 charges and his separate D.C. trial starting next month, Manafort is facing up to 80 years in prison. He is expected to file an appeal, but the real question is whether he will be pardoned by Trump.
After all, the president has called the conviction a "witch hunt."
Will any of this impact Trump?
That remains to be seen. This is the closest the president has been to being tied to a criminal endeavor. The payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal specifically could be considered an impeachable offence. But as long as Republicans have control of Congress, it's unlikely they will take any action on that front.
The news still constitute a PR-disaster for the Trump administration, particularly because Cohen — a longtime ally — has turned on him. For example, Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis went as far as saying his client wouldn't accept a presidential pardon.
"Under no circumstances, since he came to the judgment after Mr. Trump's election to the presidency of the United States that his suitability is a serious risk to our country," he said, "And certainly after [Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in] Helsinki, creates serious questions about his loyalty to our country."