Cohen, Manafort, and what their troubles mean for Donald Trump

Key questions after a difficult day in court for two former aides to the president.

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A tough day in court for former associates of Donald Trump could spell some hard days ahead for the US president.

In a New York courtroom, Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said the president directed him to arrange the payment of hush money to two women.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, a jury found Mr Trump’s one-time presidential campaign chief Paul Manafort guilty of eight financial crimes.

– What did Michael Cohen say?

Michael Cohen said the president was responsible for hush money payments (Craig Ruttle/AP)

The 51-year-old New Yorker was once one of the most trusted men in the president’s inner circle, as his former personal lawyer and “fixer”.

He is the son of an immigrant who escaped a Nazi concentration camp in Europe, and he once said he would take a bullet for his boss.

Cohen claimed Mr Trump was to blame for hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

He told the court he arranged a $150,000 payment to the model “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office… for the principle purpose of influencing the election”.

He said he also arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels “in coordination with, and at the direction of, the same candidate”.

– What was Paul Manafort found guilty of?

Paul Manafort was convicted of eight financial crimes (Alexandria Detention Centre/AP)

The 69-year-old political lobbyist and lawyer led Mr Trump’s presidential campaign during a crucial stretch of 2016, including as he clinched the Republican nomination and during the party’s convention.

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The jury found him guilty of filing false tax returns on millions of dollars in Ukrainian political consulting income, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and lying to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

The outcome – the first trial victory for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s associates – almost certainly guarantees years of prison for Manafort.

– Does Cohen’s guilty plea mean Mr Trump broke the law?

Experts say that comes down to whether he “tried to influence an election”, but Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr Cohen.”

– Could the president be forced to submit to questions?

His lawyers have been negotiating with Mr Mueller about whether the president would submit to an interview as part of the Russia investigation.

Daniels’ lawyer wants Mr Trump to submit to a deposition in a lawsuit filed to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement she signed.

Robert Mueller is investigating alleged collusion with Russia (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The Supreme Court in 1997, ruling in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against then president Bill Clinton, held that a sitting president could be made to answer questions as part of a lawsuit, but that did not directly address whether a president could be subpoenaed to testify in a criminal investigation.

– Can Mr Trump be indicted or impeached?

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Mr Trump’s lawyers have said Mr Mueller plans to adhere to that guidance, although Mr Mueller’s office has never confirmed that.

(PA Graphics)

Sol Wisenberg, who conducted grand jury questioning of Mr Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, said: “The stuff on Stormy Daniels is not good for Trump.

“I’m assuming he’s not going to be indicted because he’s a sitting president. But it leads him closer to ultimate impeachment proceedings, particularly if the Democrats take back the House.”

– Could Mr Trump pardon himself?

US courts have never had to answer the question of whether a president can pardon himself, but Mr Giuliani has said it will not come to that.

He said Mr Trump “probably does” have the power, but added: “Pardoning himself would be unthinkable and probably lead to immediate impeachment. And he has no need to do it, he’s done nothing wrong.”

Press Association

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