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Trump Slams Cohen, Lauds Manafort After Twin Legal Blows

Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations on Tuesday.

Reuters

Updated:August 22, 2018, 11:54 PM IST
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Trump Slams Cohen, Lauds Manafort After Twin Legal Blows
File photo of US President Donald Trump. (Image: Reuters)
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Washington: US President Donald Trump, in tweets about the stunning legal setbacks involving two of his former lieutenants, on Wednesday attacked the one who has turned on him and defended the one who has remained loyal.

Trump lashed out at former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen in a Twitter post by saying the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to in federal court in New York on Tuesday were "not a crime" - even though prosecutors and Cohen agreed that they were. Trump made the claim without offering any evidence.

In another tweet, Trump said, "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen."

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said his client had information that would be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the 2016 Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election. Davis set up a website to collect donations for Cohen's legal expenses.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, labeled Trump an "co-conspirator" and demanded that the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which is scheduled for early September, be delayed in the wake of Cohen's plea.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. Cohen, who once said he was so loyal that he would "take a bullet" for Trump, told a federal court in Manhattan that Trump directed him to arrange payments ahead of the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Trump has granted presidential pardons to conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio but Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said his client would not accept a presidential pardon.

"Mr. Cohen is not interested in being dirtied by a pardon from such a man," Davis told NPR.

TRUMP PRAISE FOR MANAFORT

Cohen's plea came as Paul Manafort, who served as chairman of Trump's campaign, was found guilty on eight charges in a separate financial fraud trial in Alexandria, Virginia, stemming from a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

In a morning tweet, Trump said, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. 'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!"

The Cohen and Manafort cases ratchet up political pressure on Trump and fellow Republicans ahead of November elections, in which Democrats are seeking to regain control of Congress.

The Mueller investigation has clouded Trump's presidency for more than a year and Tuesday's developments increase pressure on him personally. While Cohen did not name Trump in court on Tuesday, referring to him as "the candidate," Davis on Wednesday in television interviews accused the president of being directly involved.

Cohen had "information ... regarding both knowledge of a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI," Davis told MSNBC.

He also said on CNN that "Cohen has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about whether Donald Trump knew ahead of time about the hacking of emails."

PRESSURE FROM DEMOCRATS

Schumer said he was concerned that Kavanaugh, a federal appeals judge, told him during a Tuesday meeting that presidents should not be subject to criminal or civil investigations – or even be required to comply with related subpoenas – while in office and that impeachment by Congress is the only legal recourse.

On the Senate floor, Schumer argued that Trump should not be permitted to select a Supreme Court justice when that justice could ultimately end up hearing a case involving the president.

“A president identified as a co-conspirator of a federal crime, an accusation not made by a political enemy but by the closest of his own confidants, is on the verge of making a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, a court that may someday soon determine the extent of the president’s legal jeopardy,” Schumer said.

Other Democratic lawmakers called out Republicans for not clearing the way for a measure to protect Mueller from being fired by Trump and urged a congressional investigation in the wake of Cohen’s plea.

"Anybody who is silent in this time will be judged harshly by history," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.

Congressional Republicans, however, still were taking measure of the situation, with Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, saying Cohen lacks credibility.

“There was an allegation made, and we need to get to the bottom of the allegation, but I would note that the individual making that charge, his credibility is in tatters because he's basically been all over the map in terms of what his story is," Cornyn said.

Cornyn said Congress would continue, as it has been, investigating into claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but noted that, "nothing we heard yesterday has anything to do with Russia, or the reason why director Mueller was appointed special counsel."

Russia has denied US intelligence community findings that it interfered with the 2016 election with the aim of boosting Trump and hampering Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Moscow and repeatedly called Mueller's investigation a witch hunt.

A US grand jury has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges of hacking the computer networks of Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party.
| Edited by: Padmaja Venkataraman
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