By Steve Herman
U.S. President Donald Trump is lamenting Tuesday’s conviction on federal criminal charges of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who now faces the possibility of decades in prison.
“It’s a very sad thing that happened,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac of Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, adding he felt very badly for Manafort, who a jury found guilty of eight fraud charges.
The jury in Alexandria, Virginia, after four days of deliberation, could not reach a unanimous decision on 10 other charges and the judge declared a mistrial on those counts.
“This started as Russian collusion … this is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace. But this has nothing to do what they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none,” Trump told reporters, prior to speaking at a campaign rally in Charleston.
“We continue the witch hunt,” he added.
Longtime personal attorney
A more serious potential legal development for Trump came around the same time as the Manafort verdict when his longtime personal attorney and fixer entered guilty pleas to multiple charges and stated that hush payments to two women “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” were ordered by the presidential candidate in 2016.
“The factual basis of the plea, potentially implicating the president in illegal campaign finance violations, adds to the president’s legal jeopardy,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, who is the top opposition member on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said his client is fulfilling a promise “to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump.”
Davis, on Twitter, said if the payments by Cohen to the two women – who have said they had a sexual relationship with Trump – were a crime, “then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Cohen’s plea was entered in a federal courtroom in New York City but did not include an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, but attorneys say it does not preclude him from assisting the investigation of the special counsel, which brought the charges against Manafort and is examining ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
Trump has frequently criticized the probe, led by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, and called for it to be shut down. But the president has refrained from taking action that could lead to the dismantling of the investigation.
White House reaction
Asked to comment about Tuesday’s courtroom actions involving those formerly involved with Trump, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders referred reporters to the president’s tarmac comments about Manafort and to Trump’s outside counsel for reaction to Cohen’s plea deal.
One of Trump’s lawyers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, issued a statement after Cohen’s plea, saying, “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.”
Giuliani’s statement accused the longtime loyal aide of Trump of “lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”
U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami, who prosecuted Cohen, said in a statement that the disgraced lawyer’s “day of reckoning serves as a reminder that we are a nation of laws, with one set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”
Asked about the possible legal consequences for the president, Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by Trump, said on CNN that “there’s something called impeachment if there’s evidence of a crime.”
Even on the Fox News Channel, which is consistently supportive of Trump, there was brief discussion of the possibility of impeachment proceedings if Democrats are able to take control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm election.
“It’s all crumbling on top of the president’s head,” NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said as he came on air on the MSNBC channel just moments after details emerged about the Manafort convictions and the Cohen plea deal.