WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faced one of the most perilous moments of his presidency on Tuesday after two onetime members of his inner circle simultaneously faced the words “guilty.” Trump responded to the back-to-back legal blows in a pair of courtrooms in different states by tearing into the prosecution, as he headed to a rally with supporters in West Virginia.
Trump declared that the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial crimes was “a disgrace.”
But he largely ignored his former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty pleas to felonies, including campaign finance violations that Cohen stated he carried out in coordination with Trump. The president did say he felt “badly for both” men.
Manafort was convicted Tuesday in Virginia on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice. Cohen pleaded guilty in New York, saying he and Trump had arranged the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to influence the election.
Trump expressed regret at Manafort’s conviction, describing him as a “good man.”
“I feel very sad about that,” Trump told reporters as he arrived in West Virginia for a rally, claiming the conviction was part of a “witch hunt” after the 2016 election.
He also sought to distance himself from Manafort — who was instrumental in the 72-year-old securing the 2016 Republican nomination.
“He worked for many, many people,” said Trump, citing campaigns for former president Ronald Reagan and vice presidential candidate Bob Dole.
“It’s a very sad thing that happened, this has nothing to do with Russian collusion…It doesn’t involve me.”
But it is the Cohen case that places Trump in the most jeopardy, legal experts said, as Cohen acknowledged his role in a scheme to pay off women who accused the future president of sexual misconduct. Cohen pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that he said he conducted in coordination with Trump.
Manafort’s conviction is a vindication of Mueller’s work as investigators continue to probe potential misdeeds by the president and those in his orbit. Mueller’s team also had referred evidence in the Cohen case to federal prosecutors in New York.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani sought to cast the blame solely on Cohen in a Tuesday statement, saying: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.”