On the same day former Trump attorney Michael Cohen entered a guilty plea in a Manhattan courtroom, former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was convicted in Alexandria, Va., by a jury of eight of the 18 tax and bank fraud charges he faced.
In September, Manafort is scheduled to face a second trial on an additional nine charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, acting in the United States as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and money laundering.
That prosecution was referred by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. That office's public corruption unit was responsible for bringing the case against Cohen. The special counsel’s referrals also include lobbyist Tony Podesta and ex-Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber (R), a partner at Mercury LLC.
In April 2017, the Podesta Group filed foreign lobbying disclosures related to its work with the European Centre for Modern Ukraine. The Centre was the “nominal client” of the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC while they were being directed by Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, to lobby for Viktor Yanukovych’s interests, according to court documents.
Now, Manafort could face an even lengthier sentence if convicted on those charges next month. That prospect had at least one practitioner in a celebratory mood.
"He should have been locked up a decade ago,” one consultant told C&E on Tuesday.
In fact, Manafort’s prosecution, which stemmed from his work in the Ukraine from 2006 through 2015 for Yanukovych, has already generated some soul searching among practitioners.
“Some of these places not only pay really well, but they pay in cash,” GOP consultant Reed Galen told C&E last year. “I think more likely what you’ll see is a little more caution. If you’re a DC-based consultancy who does work overseas who has a half decent lawyer, you should probably register as a foreign agent just to be safe.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of causing an unlawful campaign contribution and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution, while directly implicating President Trump. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion and one count of making false statements to a federally insured bank.
The campaign finance charges related to payments Cohen funneled former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels to “arrange for the purchase of two stories so as to suppress them and prevent them from influencing the election.”
According to the prosecutors’ release, which doesn’t name the women, Cohen “caused and made the payments described herein in order to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“In so doing, he coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”
Prosecutors noted that while Cohen continued to work for Trump’s corporation, and didn’t have a formal title with the campaign, he did have a campaign email address and “at various times, advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press, and made televised and media appearances on behalf of the campaign.”
U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said of Cohen: “His day of reckoning serves as a reminder that we are a nation of laws, with one set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”
During his appearance in court on Tuesday, Cohen said he made the payments at the direction of a candidate for federal office, clearly implicating Trump.
Also on Tuesday, a grand jury in southern California indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife, Margaret, on campaign finance charges.
The feds allege that the couple between 2009 and 2016 used $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for “family vacations” to Italy, Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, and Idaho, school tuition for their children and even dental work, video games and fast food meals.
Hunter was an early backer of Trump's 2016 presidential run.
“The indictment alleges that Congressman Hunter and his wife repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts, and falsified FEC campaign finance reports to cover their tracks,” stated U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”
That last point runs counter to conventional wisdom among many practitioners who have long felt little-to-no fear of enforcement when violating campaign finance laws. Not only has the FEC been a toothless entity, but when the feds did bring campaign-finance charges, they didn’t stick.
To wit, John Edwards in 2012 was acquitted on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions stemming from payments his wealthy backers made during the 2008 presidential campaign allegedly to silence a former mistress who had a child with the former senator. During that trial, the jury was deadlocked and failed to reach a verdict on five other counts related to the payments.