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What could happen next after Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort convictions

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Michael Cohen and Donald Trump
Michael Cohen and Donald
Trump.

Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters


  • Last week was one of the most dramatic of President
    Donald Trump’s tenure so far.
  • Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen and
    ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort were convicted of federal
    crimes.
  • Now all eyes are on what happens next.

Last week featured some of the biggest drama of President Donald
Trump’s tenure so far.

In courtrooms separated by roughly 200 miles, Trump’s former
longtime lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of
federal felonies, two of which were campaign-finance violations
that he said Trump “directed” him to make, while the president’s
ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted on eight felony
counts while the jury was hung on another 10 counts he faced.

So what’s next?

What’s next for Michael Cohen?

In cutting a deal with federal
prosecutors
, Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to five counts
of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a
financial institution, and two counts related to campaign-finance
violations. Cohen said under oath that Trump directed him to make
the payments in order to boost his candidacy.

The latter two charges were in connection to payments to the
former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn actress Stormy
Daniels to silence their allegations of affairs with Trump.

Altogether, Cohen faced 65 years in prison for the crimes he
pleaded guilty to, but the agreement makes it likely he faces a
sentence between three and five years instead. Cohen could
shorten that further by cooperating with the government’s ongoing
investigations.


michael cohen
Cohen.
Craig
Ruttle/Associated Press


Cohen’s plea agreement itself isn’t a “cooperation” agreement,
which would require him to work with federal investigators. And
there is no guarantee that any cooperation would cut his sentence
further, though it could improve his chances.

Already, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis has said that Cohen wants
to provide information of value to special counsel Robert
Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016
presidential election, in addition to testifying before Congress.

And he said Cohen would not accept a presidential pardon.

“Michael Cohen knows information that would be of interest to the
special counsel regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to
corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to
report that knowledge to the FBI,” Davis told MSNBC this week.

Cohen has now been subpoenaed in a
separate investigation — the New York state probe into the Donald
J. Trump Foundation — following his guilty plea in federal court.
He could become a key witness in that investigation.

Preliminarily, Cohen’s sentencing date in the Southern District
of New York is set for December 12.

Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who was
formerly a federal prosecutor in the District of New Jersey, told
Business Insider in an email that if that December 12 date holds
up, “it seems very unlikely to me that Michael Cohen is actually
being used as a cooperator — either by the SDNY or Special
Counsel Mueller’s office.”

“If, on the other hand, the December 12 sentencing hearing is
delayed, that would strongly point to (but not be definitive)
cooperation,” he added, noting that he was surprised that the
plea agreement was a non-cooperating deal.

Epner said that Cohen’s agreeing to a three-to-five-year sentence
was surprising as well, saying that was a “significant amount of
time” for him to agree to serve.

“It leads me to believe that he is still actively pursuing
cooperation,” he said.

Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was
formerly a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New
York, told Business Insider in an email that he doesn’t think it
looks likely that Cohen will be able to cooperate with
investigators.

“Cohen seems likely to suffer a jail sentence, because he is a
fairly unsavory and unsympathetic person,” he said, adding that
there is “an outside chance that Cohen might still cooperate with
the Southern District and Mueller, and he and his lawyer keep
signaling that is what they want.”

What about Trump?

With Cohen having said that Trump “directed” him to arrange for
the Daniels and McDougal payments, which were the basis of two of
the eight counts Cohen pleaded guilty to, experts called Trump
an
 “unindicted co-conspirator” as it related to Cohen’s
plea deal.

Typically, that would open Trump up to being indicted. But Trump
is no ordinary person. Being president makes things quite a bit
different.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel guidelines
stipulate that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and
Trump’s attorneys have highlighted this on a number of
occassions. Those attorneys have also stated that Mueller plans
to stick to those guidelines. Mueller’s office has not
independently confirmed that, The Associated Press noted.

There are no guidelines saying an ex-president cannot be charged,
and the matter itself has never been
tested
in court and had its constitutionality determined.
Additionally, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District
of New York has not hinted whether it would follow this
guideline, although it appeared clear after Cohen’s court date on
Tuesday that they were not pursuing such charges in the immediate
future.

Sol Wisenberg, who conducted grand jury questioning of former
President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater scandal, told the AP that
Cohen’s deal was “obviously” bad for Trump, but he assumed Trump
won’t “be indicted because he’s a sitting president.”


robert mueller
Robert
Mueller.

Yuri Gripas /
Reuters


“But it leads him closer to ultimate impeachment proceedings,
particularly if the Democrats take back the House,” he said.

That is the most immediate avenue of concern for Trump.

Philip Allen Lacovara, who served as counsel to the special
prosecutors investigating former President Richard Nixon’s role
in the Watergate scandal, told The New York Times that
federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York “could
seek permission from the deputy attorney general to do what we
did in Watergate, which was to prepare a ‘road map’ of evidence
bearing on the president’s culpability and send it to the House
Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment.”

The likelihood of impeachment

Having a Congress open to such an idea is dependent on the
results of the midterm elections.

Trump himself has opined on that possibility, telling Fox News that he
doesn’t “know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great
job.”

Democrats, on the other hand, have been leery of discussing
impeachment
.

Democratic House and Senate aides who spoke with Business Insider
and requested anonymity to speak candidly on the subject said any
discussion of impeachment is still far off, even after the Cohen
and Manafort convictions. Instead, they pointed to what they said
were the “shorter-term impacts,” such as the House or Senate
Judiciary Committees holding hearings and using the convictions
as further rationale to delay a confirmation hearing for Judge
Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

One Democratic Senate aide said Cohen’s plea deal and Manafort’s
guilty verdict don’t change any calculations for the time being,
but do set the stage for possible actions after Mueller’s report
is released.

“There’s nothing the White House and Republican strategists want
more than for the midterms to become a referendum on
impeachment,” they said.

Polling shows that the opinion on impeachment is fairly split.
A Politico/Morning Consult survey
last week
found that 42% of voters believe Congress should
begin impeachment proceedings against Trump while another 42% say
it should not.

What’s next for the Trump Organization?

Another avenue to open up following Cohen’s plea deal is
involving the Trump Organization.

In an information filed by prosecutors
on Tuesday
, they laid out how executives at Trump’s business
helped reimburse Cohen for “election-related expenses.” The court
filing says Cohen submitted an invoice in January 2017 requesting
$180,000, which included $130,000 for the payment he facilitated
to Daniels and $50,000 for “tech services.”

The Trump Organization officials listed in the filings inflated
that total to $420,000, prosecutors said, which would be paid to
Cohen in installments of $35,000 for a monthly retainer fee
throughout 2017. They called the monthly invoices “legal
expenses,” according to the filing.

Though the two executives mentioned were not named, many experts and observers pointed
to Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg
as most likely
one of the two.

Soon after, it was revealed that
Weisselberg
, the man who for years managed Trump’s books, was
granted immunity by Manhattan federal prosecutors in exchange for
information about Cohen. Reporting made it clear the information
was limited to the Cohen investigation, and not connected to
wider-ranging scrutiny of the president’s or his business’s
finances.

On Thursday night, meanwhile,
The New York Times reported
that the Manhattan District
Attorney’s Office, unconnected to the federal
prosecutors investigating the payments
, was weighing possible
criminal charges against the Trump Organization and those two
unnamed senior officials. It’s unclear whether Weisselberg’s
immunity would apply to the state-level investigation.

What about Paul Manafort?

In the immediate aftermath of Manafort’s guilty verdict, it
became clear that the president had at least been considering
pardoning his former campaign chief.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, said he advised the
president against considering granting such a pardon until at
least after Mueller’s probe concluded. The president had
reportedly consulted with others about whether to pardon Manafort
before he was convicted in federal court.

Manafort was convicted on eight counts related to various
financial crimes that were not tied to his work on the campaign.
The former Trump campaign manager has a second trial upcoming in
Washington, DC.

Trump ramps up battle with his own attorney general


Jeff Sessions
Jeff
Sessions.

Alex Wong/Getty
Images


In the aftermath of the Cohen and Manafort convictions, Trump ramped up his criticism
of
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who offered a rare rebuke
to the president’s remarks.

During a “Fox and Friends” interview, Trump said he only gave
Sessions the job because he believed Sessions would be loyal,
adding that he felt Sessions “never took control” of the
Department of Justice.

Sessions responded, saying he took control of the department as
soon as he assumed control of it and that his office would not be
“improperly influenced by political considerations.”

In Congress, multiple leading
Republicans signaled that Sessions would likely be replaced
following the midterm elections. That could be a defining
decision of Trump’s young presidency.

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