The conviction of Paul Manafort and guilty plea by Michael Cohen on Tuesday fortified both the pro- and anti-Trump camps in the political war over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
President Trump once again decried the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.” The president’s supporters argued that the conviction and guilty plea underscored that the Trump campaign did not collude with the Kremlin to rig the 2016 presidential election.
“Where’s the collusion? You know they are still looking for collusion,” Mr. Trump quipped at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Tuesday night.
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Mr. Trump’s political foes said the conviction and guilty pleas vindicate Mr. Mueller and give momentum to his investigation.
“No witch hunt here,” said Robert Weissman, president of the liberal activist group Public Citizen. “It’s past time for President Trump to stand down on his attacks on the Mueller investigation and accede to the rule of law.”
Mr. Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight of 18 charges, including tax fraud and bank fraud.
Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations in connection with hush payments to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump.
The charges against both men stemmed from the investigation of Mr. Mueller, whose team prosecuted Mr. Manafort. The case against Mr. Cohen was handed off to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg said the courtroom action would not sway public opinion about the Mueller probe.
Polls show that most Republicans oppose the probe, most Democrats support it, and independents are split.
“This once again doesn’t do anything to help Mueller with people who think this is unfair and he’s just arbitrarily and maliciously going after anyone and everyone associated with Donald Trump,” Mr. Nunberg said. “I see this helping the president.”
Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said the guilt verdicts against Mr. Manafort were a “big prize” for the Mueller team and vindicate their work.
“Even though there is no so-called Russian collusion, Manafort’s involvement included pro-Russian elements of the Ukraine government and the success will add momentum and give the investigation more time to develop,” Mr. Coffey said.
Prosecutors said Mr. Manafort earned $60 million in consulting fees working for Ukrainian political groups in 2005, years before his involvement with the Trump campaign. The payment was not illegal, but the cash was involved in the tax fraud.
Mr. Coffey said the conviction in broad terms vindicates the Mueller probe.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire who is financing a campaign to impeach Mr. Trump, agreed and said the Mueller investigation is getting closer to the president.
“Michael Cohen’s admission of guilt is further proof that Donald Trump has long been intimately engaged with deceitful, lawless, and corrupt associates,” Mr. Steyer said. “The scrutiny surrounding any presidency is slowly piercing the defenses for their criminality and exposing the systemic moral rot that has surrounded Trump for years.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the American legal system was working in both cases.
“Thus far, there have yet to be any charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government by any member of the Trump campaign in the 2016 election,” said the South Carolina Republican. “It’s important to let this process continue without interference.”
He called for Mr. Mueller to conclude his investigation “sooner rather than later for the benefit of the nation.”
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