US & Canada

Will Donald Trump remain bulletproof after Manafort and Cohen?

US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters ahead of a rally in West Virginia, 21 August 2018 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Trump has effectively been implicated in the commission of a crime

Tuesday's duelling courtroom dramas in New York and Virginia were the kind of body blows that would stagger, if not fell, most presidencies. And those were just the two top headlines in a day that contained a string of dismal news for Donald Trump.

Will any of this matter? The president - at least among his base - has appeared politically bulletproof. Bulletproof for now, however, doesn't necessarily mean bulletproof forever. At some point, the projectiles - perhaps after the mid-terms, when Republican control of Congress and power to set the political agenda may be blunted - may start finding the mark.

Here's a look at just how bad a day this was for the president.

Cohen has implicated Trump in criminal conduct

The president's former personal lawyer didn't just stand in court on Tuesday and accuse the president of lying - although he did do that.

By saying that Mr Trump - "individual-1" in the plea agreement - directed him to make or oversee payments in 2016 to secure the silence of women poised to accuse the president of having adulterous affairs with them, he effectively implicated the president in the commission of a crime.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan court to violating campaign finance laws

Cohen admitted that his payments constituted campaign contributions that either were directed from an illegal corporate source or in excess of allowable amounts for an individual. Both acts carry a five-year maximum prison sentence.

The president in the past has denied having any knowledge of the payments. His legal team has since walked that back and asserted that he only had general knowledge after the fact. Now, however, Cohen is saying Mr Trump knew about them from the start.

And it's not just Cohen's word against the president's. In the case of the payment to Karen MacDougal - "woman-1" in the plea agreement - his lawyer has already released an audio recording in which Cohen and then-candidate Mr Trump discussed the issue.

Add to this the fact that "woman-2", adult film actress Stormy Daniels, is now poised to resume her lawsuit against Mr Trump to get out of her non-disclosure agreement brokered by Cohen. A judge put the suit on hold pending the criminal investigation into Cohen, which now appears to be resolved. That suit could turn up more evidence of Mr Trump's involvement in the illegal $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen has now confessed to making to her on the eve of the 2016 election.

It's heavy seas ahead for the president any way you look at it.

Special counsel team notches a trial conviction

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was under considerable pressure to get a conviction in his case against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Even though the charges did not directly relate to the central thrust of his investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it was the first time his team had to face a jury.

If they had walked away without a conviction, either through a hung jury or an outright acquittal, the accusations from Trump loyalists that the investigation was a waste of resources and time would have reached a fevered pitch.

It wasn't an across-the-board victory for Mr Mueller, given that the jury couldn't reach a verdict on 10 of the 18 counts, but convictions on tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and bank fraud are points on the board.

Add that to the numerous indictments of Russian individuals and companies and plea agreements already reached with Trump campaign officials George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, as well as with London lawyer Alex van der Zwaan and computer programmer Richard Pinedo, and the special counsel team is producing a growing list of accomplishments.

Pressure on Manafort mounts

After the verdicts were announced, Manafort's lawyer told the press that his client was "disappointed". That may be a bit of an understatement. Even with convictions on only eight of the 18 criminal counts against him, Mr Trump's former campaign chair could be looking at a lengthy prison sentence.

And Manafort faces a second trial in Washington DC next month for money laundering, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiracy to defraud the US, making false statements and witness tampering. It's the bulk of the legal case against the long-time Washington lobbyist.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Manafort was found guilty on eight charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign banks accounts

Manafort's lawyers had insisted on the two separate trials, perhaps because they thought they he had a better chance of acquittal from an Alexandria jury or friendlier federal judges in the Northern Virginia district. If so, that plan backfired.

Manafort may be hoping for a presidential pardon, given that Mr Trump has said his prosecution was politically motivated and that he was a "good man". The president can only pardon for federal crimes, however, and Manafort's conviction on tax fraud opens him up to future state-level charges, which Mr Trump has no power to forgive.

Now 69-year-old Manafort is facing a lengthy prison sentence - and more legal battles to come. And while he hasn't shown a willingness to co-operate with Mr Mueller's investigation so far, that could change.

Manafort, after all, attended the June 2016 Trump tower meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr with Russian nationals, originally billed as a means to gather damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. He took a series of cryptic notes on the topic, which he might be willing to explain to the special counsel - in exchange for lightened sentence.

Having one's former campaign chair end up as a convicted felon is not good news. If Manafort flips, however, a bad day for Mr Trump could, in hindsight, be a catastrophic one.

Flynn is still co-operating

Buried under Tuesday afternoon's news was another nugget from the special counsel's office, that it has requested the sentencing of former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn be delayed once again.

"Due to the status of the investigation, the Special Counsel's Office does not believe that this matter is ready to be scheduled for a sentencing hearing at this time," Mr Mueller's lawyers told the court overseeing Flynn's plea deal.

That would indicate that Flynn, who has admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the Trump presidential transition, is still co-operating with Mr Mueller and that his usefulness to the investigation is ongoing. It might also mean that a formal sentencing hearing could reveal information Mr Mueller would prefer to keep secret at this time.

Either way, it's a sign that, behind the scenes, gears are still grinding in Mr Mueller's investigation.

Another early Trump supporter is charged

Two weeks ago Chris Collins of New York, the first member of the House of Representatives to endorse Mr Trump's presidential bid, was indicted for insider trading. On Tuesday afternoon, Duncan Hunter - the second congressman to do so - was charged with using campaign funds for personal expenses, including trips for his family to Hawaii and Italy.

Earlier in the day Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping programme of political reform measures she said were necessary to address widespread political corruption in Washington DC. That included a ban on all lobbying by former top government officials, a prohibition of all members of Congress and White House staff from holding individual corporate stocks and a requirement that all president and vice-presidential candidates disclose eight years of tax returns.

Similar calls for fixing a broken political system helped Democrats sweep into power in Congress in 2006. It did the same for Republicans in 1994. Mr Trump's "drain the swamp" rhetoric was a constant rallying cry for his supporters in 2016.

After Tuesday's onslaught of convictions, pleas and indictments, Warren's slate of proposals could prove to be a potent mid-term weapon for Democrats this November, if they know how to use it.

More on this story