Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Jolted by allies' criminal cases, Trump faces election and legal risks

The potential jail time of two ex-advisers widens criminal probe that has overshadowed presidency

US President Donald Trump arrives for a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia, on August 21, 2018. AFP
US President Donald Trump arrives for a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia, on August 21, 2018. AFP

US President Donald Trump suffered setbacks on Tuesday with two of his former advisers facing prison sentences – and one of them saying Mr Trump told him to commit a crime – in developments that may hurt his Republican Party's mid-term election prospects this autumn and widen a criminal investigation that has overshadowed his presidency.

Within minutes of each other in separate courts, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on tax and bank fraud charges, while Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a number of charges.

Cohen also testified that Mr Trump directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments before the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had had affairs with Mr Trump.

The setbacks refocused attention on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, whether Mr Trump's campaign colluded with a foreign power and whether Mr Trump obstructed justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey, who was formerly in charge of the investigation.

Mr Trump has denied collusion, describing Mr Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt".

Of the two latest developments, Cohen's plea deal was the more troublesome, according to those around Mr Trump.

"A bad day for the home team," said one source close to the president.

The source said the legal woes could depress voter turnout and increase Republicans' risk of losing their 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives in November's congressional elections.

A Democratic victory in November would limit Mr Trump's ability to push through legislation and increase the risk of calls for his impeachment.

Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said on Tuesday that his client was "more than happy" to tell Mr Mueller's legal team everything he knows about Mr Trump.

Democrats pounced on the Cohen and Manafort cases, saying they bolstered their argument that the Trump White House was weighed down by scandal.

"The American people deserve answers regarding the president's role in these corrupt and criminal actions," said Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro.

Rodell Mollineau, a senior Democratic strategist, said the news "adds to a constant drumbeat that will ultimately affect some independent voters" and help Democrats at the polls.

"Manafort being convicted, on its own, might not sway any votes. But given the totality of criminality uncovered...it will be hard for some Republicans to ignore and even harder to explain."

Still, there were no calls for Mr Trump's impeachment and Republicans did not join the chorus of criticism from Democratic ranks.


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The long-term impact of the Cohen and Manafort cases are likely to depend on how they affect the turnout of Republican and Democratic voters in November.

While he undoubtedly had a bad day on Tuesday, some analysts said Mr Trump might be able to turn the setbacks to his advantage by reinforcing core supporters' views that he is under siege, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Centre.

"In midterm elections, the president's party tends to be less interested and less motivated to vote. But one thing that will motivate people to get out and vote is if they believe the party is being attacked unfairly," he said.

At a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday night, a relatively subdued Mr Trump did not mention either the Cohen or Manafort cases.

Instead, as supporters cheered him on, he made fun of his opponents' focus on the Mueller investigation, saying they were desperate to find collusion with Russians.

"Where is the collusion? Where is it?" he said, mimicking his critics.

Josh McGrew, who travelled from Huntington, West Virginia, for the rally, called the investigation a smear campaign and said his support for Mr Trump was unshaken.

"This is all about finding out anything they can in somebody's past," Mr McGrew said. "They haven't come up with anything in a year and a half, almost two years."

Polling by Ipsos/Reuters has shown Mr Trump's job approval rating holding steady at about 40 per cent, even with Mr Mueller's investigation already bringing guilty pleas by several former Trump advisers.

The Cohen and Manafort cases were unlikely to erode Mr Trump's support from his political base or the Republican Party establishment, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the University of Virginia Centre for Politics.

"I don't think there is any change at all," said Mr Sabato. "That's the amazing part of it. The Trump base and virtually the entire Republican Party could care less. The polls will bear me out."

Updated: August 22, 2018 04:01 PM