The Developments With Manafort and Cohen Explained

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News broke Tuesday afternoon that a jury in Alexandria, Va., had found Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, guilty on eight counts: five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. Minutes before that, in New York, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law and other charges, implicating the president in his statement.

How should we make sense of this? Sharon LaFraniere, a New York Times investigative reporter who covered the Manafort trial for 16 days, discussed the two criminal cases on Facebook Live with our audience. Here are nine questions sent in by viewers, along with her answers. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Which case is more important or severe?

I think Michael Cohen’s guilty plea is more momentous for the president. He implicated Mr. Trump in two crimes involving campaign finance violations, and President Trump said today that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to two counts that are not crimes, but I think the president’s critics will seize on that and say, “Well, why would your lawyer plead guilty if these were not crimes?”

In Michael Cohen’s case, his plea agreement did not include an agreement to cooperate with ongoing investigations and that’s sort of an outstanding question: Why didn’t it?

In Mr. Manafort’s case, he faces a second trial coming up in September on seven additional counts, so it’s not over for Mr. Manafort by any means.

Are these convictions grounds for impeachment?

In the Manafort case, no, that case was purely financial fraud charges. It had nothing to do with whether Russia interfered or tried to influence the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential race.

In the Cohen case, that’s an open question. In court, Michael Cohen implicated the president in payments to two women who had alleged that they had affairs with him, so in those counts he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws.

Will prosecutors seek to retry Paul Manafort?

I don’t think that the prosecutors will because they didn’t get everything they wanted but they got a lot of what they wanted and they have another case coming up in Washington, D.C. where they are likely to have a more favorable jury pool.

On the 10 counts that the jury deadlocked on in the Manafort trial, the prosecutors do have the option of seeking to retry those charges, but I don’t think it’s very likely that they will do that.

Will the sequestered evidence be made public if there’s no retrial?

There were bench conferences that we were extremely curious about. One bench conference convened after the defense attorneys asked Mr. Gates, “Did the prosecutors try to question you about the Trump campaign?” and the bench conference on that question was sealed by the judge after the prosecutors said it could jeopardize an ongoing investigation. The judge said he is not going to unseal that for the foreseeable future. The other bench conferences are less interesting and will be unsealed.

Could Paul Manafort get pardoned?

There are people who think that President Trump is signaling that a pardon might be forthcoming when he praises Mr. Manafort as a brave man and says that Mr. Mueller is disgraced and discredited and leading a gang of thugs. So yes, he could be pardoned. I don’t know if he could be pardoned before his next trial, although I guess theoretically he could.

It would have political ramifications for sure because Mr. Manafort was convicted of, among other things, evading taxes on more than $15 million in income over a period of five years and the two bank fraud charges on which he was convicted carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years. So these are not crimes that could be dismissed as politically charged, they were straight out fraud charges.

Can D.C., Virginia or New York charge Mr. Manafort with state crimes so that he can’t be pardoned?

He’s been charged with federal crimes — both Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen were charged with federal crimes — so I don’t think so. I think the answer to that is no.

Was there a single general reason why the 10 hanging charges were declared a mistrial? If so, what are the reasons?

The bank fraud charges were complicated, probably four of them didn’t result in a conviction because it seemed like the bank itself in that case was a co-conspirator. Manafort might have submitted inaccurate information, but the bank definitely seemed to want to give the loan. In fact it seemed almost like quid pro quo between Manafort and the bank chairman, who was hoping for a job. Maybe Secretary of the Army or even Secretary of the Treasury in the Trump administration. So the argument was that if the bank is willing to give the loan, where’s the fraud?

The others were conspiracy charges that involved basically requiring the jury to believe Mr. Gates’ testimony. Gates testified that he stole from Mr. Manafort hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also testified he might’ve stolen from President Trump’s inaugural committee when he was executive director of it and that he has committed crimes that could land him in prison for 100 years. And yet more than two dozen charges were dismissed against him as part of his plea agreement, so it’s possible that the jury just wasn’t going to convict on anything that they thought depended upon Rick Gates’ testimony.

When is sentencing for Mr. Manafort, and does Michael Cohen go to jail immediately?

For Paul Manafort, the judge said basically that he wanted to hear back from the prosecution about whether they intended to retry him on the 10 counts on which the jury could not reach a consensus.

For Michael Cohen, no sentencing date has been set as far as I know.

It’s worth noting that both men face significant prison time. I think Mr. Manafort probably is looking at anywhere from six to 12 years in prison and Mr. Cohen is looking at possibly a minimum of four years in prison, so very stiff consequences for both of them.

Is there precedent for Congress limiting presidential pardons?

Not that I know of, honestly. I don’t think we’ve really confronted that question in the same way as we are now.


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