One of them, Mr. Trump’s own lawyer, has now implicated him in a crime.
From the start of the Russia investigation, President Trump has been working to discredit the work and the integrity of the special counsel, Robert Mueller; praising men who are blatant grifters, cons and crooks; insisting that he’s personally done nothing wrong; and reminding us that he hires only the best people.
On Tuesday afternoon, the American public was treated to an astonishing split-screen moment involving two of those people, as Mr. Trump’s former campaign chief was convicted by a federal jury in Virginia of multiple crimes carrying years in prison at the same time that his longtime personal lawyer pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to his own lengthy trail of criminality, and confessed that he had committed at least some of the crimes “at the direction of” Mr. Trump himself.
Let that sink in: Mr. Trump’s own lawyer has now accused him, under oath, of committing a felony.
Only a complete fantasist — that is, only President Trump and his cult — could continue to claim that this investigation of foreign subversion of an American election, which has already yielded dozens of other indictments and several guilty pleas, is a “hoax” or “scam” or “rigged witch hunt.”
The conviction of Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign for three months in 2016, was a win for prosecutors even though jurors were unable to reach a verdict on 10 of the 18 counts against him. On the other eight, which included bank fraud, tax fraud and a failure to report a foreign bank account, the jury agreed unanimously that Mr. Manafort was guilty. He is scheduled to go on trial in a separate case next month in Washington, D.C., on charges including money laundering, witness tampering, lying to authorities and failing to register as a foreign agent. Mr. Manafort faces many decades behind bars, although he will probably serve less than that under federal sentencing guidelines.
A few hundred miles to the north, in New York City, Michael “I’m going to mess your life up” Cohen stood before a federal judge and pleaded guilty to multiple counts of bank and tax fraud as well as federal campaign-finance violations involving hush-money payments he made to women who said they’d had sex with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen, who spent years as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and “fix-it guy” (his own words), was under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, to whom Mr. Mueller referred his case. In April, F.B.I. agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office, home and hotel room looking for evidence of criminality on a number of fronts. Apparently they found it.
More on Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort
Mr. Cohen didn’t agree at Tuesday’s hearing to cooperate with prosecutors, but if he eventually chooses to, that could spell even bigger trouble for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen has been involved in many of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia, including his aborted effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and could shed light on connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials involved in the 2016 election interference.
But back to Tuesday’s news. Mr. Manafort was not an original target of the inquiry by Mr. Mueller, who was appointed in May of last year to look into possible ties between the Trump campaign and efforts by Russian government officials to interfere in the election. But Mr. Mueller’s mandate authorized him to investigate any other crimes that arose in the course of his work. It didn’t take long. As soon as he and his lawyers started sniffing around, the stench of Mr. Manafort’s illegality was overpowering.
As a longtime lobbyist and political consultant who worked for multiple Republican candidates and presidents, Mr. Manafort had a habit of lying to banks to get multimillion-dollar loans and hiding his cash in offshore accounts when tax time rolled round. In at least one case, he falsely characterized $1.5 million as a loan to avoid paying taxes on it, then later told banks that the loan had been “forgiven” so he could get another loan.
He also enriched himself by working for some of the world’s most notorious thugs and autocrats, including Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Jonas Savimbi in Angola and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He helped elect the pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine, a job that earned him millions until Mr. Yanukovych was ousted from power in 2014.
Despite this mercenary history — or perhaps, more disturbingly, because of it — Donald Trump, while running on promises to clean up Washington, hired Mr. Manafort to run his presidential campaign, a job he may well have kept but for news reports that he was receiving and hiding millions of dollars from his work on behalf of Mr. Yanukovych.
What does it tell you about Mr. Trump that he would choose to lead his campaign someone like Mr. Manafort, whom even on Tuesday he called a “good man”? It tells you that Mr. Trump is consistent, and consistently contemptuous of honesty and ethics, because he has surrounded himself with people of weak, if not criminal, character throughout his career.
While the president has so far dodged questions about whether he will pardon Mr. Manafort, he’s already shown a willingness to make a mockery of the justice system with his pardons of unrepentant lawbreakers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D’Souza. Last year, the president’s lawyer dangled the prospect of a pardon to lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. If Mr. Trump were to follow through and grant clemency to Mr. Manafort, it would make his pardon of Mr. Arpaio look like the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
You’re forgiven if you’ve lost track of all the criminality, either charged or admitted, that has burst forth from Mr. Trump’s circles in the last couple years even as Mr. Trump has continued to claim that the investigation is a hoax, a pointless waste of taxpayer dollars. So here’s a brief refresher:
In addition to the prosecution of Mr. Manafort, the special counsel’s office has secured guilty pleas from multiple people, including Mr. Flynn and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, both of whom lied to federal investigators about their communications with Russian officials.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mueller has charged more than a dozen Russian individuals and companies for their roles in a coordinated and deceptive social-media campaign aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and helping Mr. Trump’s. Some Trump campaign officials were unwittingly in contact with some of these defendants.
Mr. Mueller has also charged a dozen Russian military officials with hacking and helping to release emails of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The hackers first tried to break into Mrs. Clinton’s personal servers on July 27, 2016 — the same day that Mr. Trump publicly called on Russians to do exactly that.
And he has charged Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate of Mr. Manafort and a suspected spy, with obstructing justice.
As Mr. Trump rages on about the unfairness of the investigation, remember that Mr. Mueller has been on the job for just 15 months. For comparison, the Watergate investigation ran for more than two years before it brought down a president and sent dozens of people to prison. The Iran contra investigation dragged on for about seven years, as did the Whitewater investigation, which resulted in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Also remember we still don’t know anything about the ultimate fate of several other Trump associates who have been under Mr. Mueller’s microscope, including Roger Stone, Carter Page and Donald Trump Jr. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer”).
For a witch hunt, Mr. Mueller’s investigation has already bagged a remarkable number of witches. Only the best witches, you might say.