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Trump Responds To Manafort Verdict and Cohen Plea

Aug 22, 2018
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump has spoken this morning. Or, we should say, he has tweeted this morning. He is responding to the guilty verdict of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. In Virginia yesterday, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted by a jury on eight tax fraud charges. And just minutes earlier in New York, the president's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to five charges of tax evasion, one of falsifying submissions to a bank and two counts involving unlawful campaign contributions. Let's try and sort all of this out with NPR's Scott Detrow. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So Trump was pretty quiet about this last night at a rally in West Virginia after all this news came about, but not so quiet this morning.

DETROW: Yeah. He is pretty defiant and defensive in a series of tweets this morning. This started off with what could be classified, to use the popular Twitter vernacular, as a sick burn, as it were, saying, if anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you do not retain the services of Michael Cohen. He goes on to praise Paul Manafort, saying that the Justice Department took an old case, dredged it up to apply pressure. He says he has such respect for a brave man for not, as Trump puts it, breaking. He goes on to say a large number of counts, 10, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case witch hunt.

I would add here that Manafort was still convicted on eight counts. That's a lot. He's likely going to spend a significant amount of time in jail. And he was not acquitted on the other counts. The jury could not reach a verdict. Finally, Trump says - argues that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. Trump says President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled.

GREENE: Is that a fair comparison, when President Trump brings up Obama?

DETROW: Well, he is right that the Obama campaign did pay a fairly large fine to the FEC for not reporting contributions in a timely manner. He's not right that it's not a crime because, as we know, Cohen pleaded guilty to two different crimes. What he admitted to is knowingly violating campaign finance limits as part of an effort to silence women who claimed they had had affairs with Donald Trump, and doing that in the final weeks of a presidential election, in one case, and then covering up those payments in a way that a prosecutor called a sham yesterday. And the key thing in all of this is that Cohen says he did it in coordination with and at the direction of President Trump.

GREENE: And then so you have President Trump really attacking Cohen this morning. It's amazing because this is a guy who was so loyal at one point, he said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. Isn't that right?

DETROW: Yeah. A close aide for years, a lawyer. Someone that Trump often viewed as a fixer, the guy he depended on to fix his problems.

GREENE: And now maybe at the center of what could bring some real consequences for Donald Trump.

DETROW: Yeah. Because all along, the president has stuck to two defenses. One, none of this has anything to do with Russia. The second, this has nothing to do with him. Well, that guilty plea yesterday blows a hole in that second key argument. As we talked about, he says that Trump was directly involved in this and this was not, you know, bank or tax fraud from years ago. This was something done in the middle of the presidential campaign. And this is really going to likely ramp up calls from Democrats to seriously consider impeachment proceedings. Republican leaders have no interest in going down that road. But you can expect Democratic candidates to talk a lot more about that. And if Democrats do win control of the House, you can expect this to be a serious conversation about whether the Judiciary Committee begins the process of impeaching the president.

GREENE: All right. Which puts a lot more stakes, of course, on this fall's midterm elections. NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow covers all things politics for us. Thanks, as always, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.