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Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen developments fuel partisan furor over Robert Mueller probe

August 21, 2018

The conviction of Paul Manafort and guilty plea by Michael Cohen on Tuesday failed to dramatically change the political furor surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, with the outcomes only reinforcing pro-Trump and anti-Trump positions.

President Trump once again decried the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.” The president’s supporters argued that it only underscored the complete absence of Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin to rig the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Trump’s political foes said the conviction and guilty plea vindicated Mr. Mueller and gave momentum to his investigation.

“No witch hunt here,” said Robert Weissman, president of the liberal activist group Public Citizen. “It’s past time for President Trump to stand down on his attacks on the Mueller investigation and accede to the rule of law.”

Mr. Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight of 18 charges, including tax fraud and bank fraud.

Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations in connection with hush payments to two women who allegedly had sex romps with Mr. Trump.

The charges against both men stemmed from Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Mueller’s team prosecuted Mr. Manafort. The case against Mr. Cohen was handed off to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg said the courtroom action would not sway public opinion about the Mueller probe.

Polls show that most Republicans oppose the probe, most Democrats support it and independents are split.

“This once again doesn’t do anything to help Mueller with people who think this is unfair and he’s just arbitrarily and maliciously going after anyone and everyone associated with Donald Trump,” said Mr. Nunberg. “I see this helping the president.”

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said Mr. Manafort was a “big prize” for the Mueller team and vindicates their work.

“Even though there is no so-called Russian collusion, Manafort’s involvement included pro-Russian elements of the Ukraine government and the success will add momentum and give the investigation more time to develop,” said Mr. Coffey.

Prosecutors said Mr. Manafort earned $60 million in consulting fees working for Ukrainian political groups in 2005, years before his involvement with the Trump campaign. The payment was not illegal but the cash was involved in the tax fraud.

Mr. Coffey said the conviction, in broad terms, vindicated the Mueller probe.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire who is financing a campaign to impeach Mr. Trump, agreed.

He said the investigation was getting closer to the president.

“Michael Cohen’s admission of guilt is further proof that Donald Trump has long been intimately engaged with deceitful, lawless, and corrupt associates,” said Mr. Steyer. “The scrutiny surrounding any presidency is slowly piercing the defenses for their criminality and exposing the systemic moral rot that has surrounded Trump for years.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the American legal system was working in both cases.

“Thus far, there have yet to be any charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government by any member of the Trump campaign in the 2016 election,” he said. “It’s important to let this process continue without interference.”

He called for Mr. Mueller to conclude his investigation “sooner rather than later for the benefit of the nation.”

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