Pleading and Convicting: 16 Counts Down - by Greer Clem

Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, once considered cornerstones of the Trump campaign, have today been brought to new lows. Michael Cohen plead guilty to 8 violations of banking, tax, and campaign finance laws. The Washington Post reports, "Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank and two campaign finance violations: making an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution." Cohen reportedly told the judge that he was directed by Trump to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 just one month before the election. He said in court today that the payment was "for the principle purposes of influencing the election" in 2016.

Meanwhile, in a court in Alexandria, Virginia, former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on 8 charges of bank and tax fraud. 10 other charges leveled against him, of which the jury were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, were declared a mistrial by the judge. Of the counts returned guilty, five were for filing false tax returns, one was for not filing a required IRS form, and two were counts of bank fraud. The case against Manafort was centered around his personal finances and extravagant lifestyle, both supplemented by work he did as a political consultant in Ukraine. 

But let's get down to the heart of the matter: what does this mean for the Trump presidency? We knew these men had committed crimes and tried to hide money. We knew that one of them did so at the direction of the President. But how much will this change Trump's actual influence? Among his supporters, we should expect no change. They will stick to his tweets and argue that these men hid money and had overseas interests that in no way involved the president. Within the White House, insanity will rage even more than it normally does; a flurry of tweets will hit and Sarah Huckabee Sanders will have to hem and haw more than usual. But what is truly needed now is an immediate need to pass legislation that protects Robert Mueller's investigation. Manafort was found guilty of crimes less related to his role as Trump's campaign manager, but to have Michael Cohen as a cooperating witness is a dangerous thing for Trump. His assertions today that his crimes were committed at the direction of the president are indicative enough that any loyalty once there is gone. If Cohen cooperates with Mueller's team, there may be judicial incentive to lower his prison time, now estimated to be between 4 and 5 years. 

To the point of Trump's susceptibility to criminal charges, we must remember that Trump is trying to push through a Supreme Court nominee who has stated he believes the a sitting President cannot be indicted. Meanwhile, documents from Kavanaugh's time in the White House during the Bush administration still have not been released for review, prompting some Senate Democrats to threaten a lawsuit. Mitch McConnell, who blocked Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination with relish, is in turn threatening to get Kavanaugh's confirmation to a vote before midterms in November. 

As with everything that happens under the Trump administration, context is important. We have to place every event in the context of Trump's political agenda and the Republican Party's political agenda in order to understand what must be done to protect our democracy. With that haunting thought, a little positivity: Cohen's offices were raided in April. It is August and we have a guilty plea. Today was a win for the truth, a demonstration that those at the top are not immune, even if they did work for the president. Tomorrow we must continue to fight to protect Mueller's investigation, to ensure an open, comprehensive vetting process for Brett Kavanaugh, and to get information out to voters, because at the end of the day none of this matters unless we take it to the polls. 

Greer Clem