In a much-needed victory for special counsel Robert Mueller, former President Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been found guilty on eight counts in his bank and tax fraud trial.Paul Manafort
The implications for Mueller’s Russia probe of the Trump administration were aptly summed up before the verdict was reached by Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration.
“The din of the verdict will be deafening,” Corallo told Politico.
“If Manafort is acquitted, it’ll be the pro-Trump side blasting the special counsel, blasting the whole process, urging for the dismissal of the office of special counsel and shutting down the investigation and all of that.”
“If it goes the other way, the left and anti-Trump side will be screaming at top of their lungs that Trump should be impeached.”
Manafort being found guilty means the Mueller show will be able to go on. An acquittal on all charges would have led to an outcry from Republicans and Trump supporters for Mueller to close up shop.
There is still doubt as to how much a guilty verdict helps Mueller, though, in his attempts to implicate the president in any wrongdoing.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., appearing on Fox News, explained what Mueller hopes a Manafort guilty verdict could lead to, and why there was reason to doubt that it would:Rep. Matt Gaetz
“I think that the strategy that Bob Mueller’s using is to try to create as much pressure around people like Roger Stone, like Paul Manafort, like Rick Gates,” Gaetz said as the Manafort trial was concluding.
“Perhaps, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. with the hopes that somebody will lie and say that there was something that implicated Donald Trump.
“But there’s no evidence that, that occurred whatsoever. So, here with the Manafort trial, you see an attempt to build leverage but no real evidence connecting the president to any type of Russian collusion or any type of Russian interference in the U.S. election.”
Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen accepting a plea deal also could serve Mueller’s “pressure” strategy.
Cohen has reached a plea deal in his tax and financial fraud case, and his guilty plea will include campaign finance fraud charges related to payments to two women who allegedly had affairs with Trump and were paid for their silence.
Democrats were quick to hail the Manafort verdict as a crucial moment in the Mueller probe.
“The conviction of Paul Manafort on multiple felony charges of bank and tax fraud marks a major turning point in the special counsel’s ongoing investigation, and shows again that the president’s campaign was populated by individuals with a history of unscrupulous and dishonest business dealings and concerning ties to overseas interests,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
What long-term damage this will do to the presidency remains to be seen.