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U.S. Jury Finds Manafort Guilty Of Financial Fraud; Cohen Pleads Guilty


Paul Manafort (file photo)

A U.S. federal jury has found Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, guilty on eight of 18 counts in his trial on tax-evasion and bank-fraud charges.

The verdict, announced on August 21 in Alexandria, Virginia, came the same day as Trump's longtime personal lawyer pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations in which he implicated Trump as the man who ordered the payments in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Both cases highlight the mounting legal problems Trump faces.

Both are connected to the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been looking into interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials, as well as Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Neither deal directly with Russian interference in the election, though the case against Manafort focused on income he received as a political consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, including former President Viktor Yanukovych.

In Virginia, prosecutors charged that Manafort hid millions of dollars to avoid taxes as he sought to bankroll an extravagant lifestyle. The jury agreed with the prosecution's findings that Manafort illegally shielded some of his income, and also lied to fraudulently obtain bank loans.

News reports said Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, appeared somber-faced as the judge announced the verdict.

The jury failed to reach agreement on 10 other charges, leading the judge to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors said they intend to decide next week whether they will seek a retrial on those charges.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, defense lawyer Kevin Downing said Manafort was "disappointed" by the verdict, but that Manafort also wanted to thank the judge for a "fair trial."

Trump said in televised comments that the case did not implicate him in any crimes, but he felt badly for Manafort.

"It does not involve me," he said, as he arrived for a campaign rally in West Virginia. "It has nothing to do with Russian collusion," he said, adding that Mueller's "witch-hunt" nevertheless will continue.

Whether prosecutors retry Manafort may hinge in part on a second federal trial against him that is scheduled to begin in Washington, D.C., next month. That trial will feature charges of defrauding the United States and witness tampering, and could yield even more damaging revelations about Russia's interference efforts.

'Hush Money'

While Manafort’s trials are significant, many legal observers have watched the case against Michael Cohen even more attentively because of the potential for more direct problems for Trump.

Cohen's case reportedly grew out of Mueller’s efforts, but was transferred to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, one of the most influential U.S. attorneys' offices in the country.

Cohen served for years as Trump’s personal lawyer and "fixer" -- helping to negotiate deals and protect Trump and his family.

In April, federal agents raided Cohen's home and office and seized millions of pages of documents and bank records. No charges were brought against him immediately, but authorities indicated that the investigation was focused on possible violations of U.S. election law.

In Manhattan federal court, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts in all, including tax evasion. In the plea, he said he arranged payment during the 2016 presidential election of so-called "hush money" to two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Cohen didn't directly name Trump, saying only that he made the illegal campaign payments "at the direction of a candidate" and that the funds were paid "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" in 2016.

The hush-money payments are important because Cohen said they occurred during the election campaign.

U.S. election law requires any contribution to a political candidate to be publicly disclosed, which neither Trump nor his campaign apparently did. That could be charged as a felony violation.

Trump has repeatedly denied having the affairs, and has also alternated between insulting Cohen and lamenting his legal problems.

Trump has also repeatedly railed against Mueller's investigation, calling it a "witch-hunt," questioning its legal basis, and asserting bias on the part of Mueller's team.

On August 22, Trump said he wouldn't recommend his former personal lawyer.

"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump tweeted.

Meanwhile, Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said his client has information "that would be of interest" to Mueller.

The information could include whether Trump knew ahead of time about the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails during the 2016 presidential election campaign, Davis said in a series of television interviews on August 22.

Cohen is the fifth Trump associate to have pleaded guilty or be charged since Trump took office. Others include his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, who testified against his boss during the Virginia trial.

Manafort is scheduled to go on trial in September in a separate case in Washington on charges that include money laundering, witness tampering, lying to authorities, and failing to register as a foreign agent.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent in Prague, where he reports on developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and money laundering. Before joining RFE/RL in 2015, he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow. He has also reported and edited for The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, Voice of America, and the Vladivostok News.