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Wake Up To Politics - August 22, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, August 22, 2018. 76 days until Election Day 2018. 804 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

GUILTY: Two Trump associates face jail time

Paul Manafort convicted on eight charges; Michael Cohen agrees to plea deal

Donald Trump often boasted during his 2016 presidential bid that he was surrounded by "the best people," and he made alleged criminal activity by his opponent a central tenet of his campaign. But in an epic one-two punch on Tuesday, President Trump's former campaign chairman was found guilty of eight charges — just as his former personal attorney was entering into a plea agreement, which implicated the president himself.

Special counsel Robert Mueller scored a major victory as a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia found former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of eight counts; Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on the remaining ten charges Manafort was facing. Manafort was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account.

Trump defended Manafort after the verdict was announced, calling it a "sad thing that happened" and emphasizing that it had "nothing to do with Russian collusion." Once again, he called Mueller's probe — which scored its first major courtroom win on Tuesday — a "witch hunt and a disgrace."

Just minutes after the Manafort conviction, another onetime member of the president's inner circle found himself at a courtroom with "guilty" next to his name. Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and "fixer," pleaded guilty at a federal courthouse in Manhattan to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank, one count of being a "willful cause" of an unlawful corporate campaign contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution.

While the financial crimes that make up all of Manafort's conviction and most of Cohen's plea do not involve their former boss, the campaign finance violations Cohen admitted to directly implicate President Trump. Cohen's plea agreement describes his efforts, coordinating with the Trump campaign, during the 2016 election cycle to silence two women (adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal) who claimed to have sexual contact with Trump.

Cohen admitted to working with American Media CEO David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, to "catch and kill" McDougal's story for $150,000 (the unlawful corporate contribution). Cohen was also charged for arranging a nondisclosure agreement with Daniels in which he paid her $130,000, which prosecutors said counted as an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign which exceeded the federal limit (the excessive campaign contribution).

He admitted that the payments were made "for the principal purpose of influencing the election," adding that they took place "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office": Donald Trump.

The guilty plea marked an extraordinary turnaround for Cohen: just one year ago, the attorney famously said he would "take a bullet for the president." On Tuesday, he struck a deal with prosecutors, admitting that he committed crimes to sway the 2016 race at Trump's direction.

Cohen joins a number of other former Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to various crimes in recent months, including the president's former national security adviser, former deputy campaign chairman, and a campaign foreign policy advisers. Cohen faces three to six years in jail, while Manafort could serve a maximum sentence of 80 years. Cohen's plea agreement does not require him to cooperate with prosecutors, although it opens the door to him doing so in the future.

Lanny Davis, Cohen's attorney, hinted in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that the former "fixer" had knowledge of Trump's involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, and that he was willing to share it. Davis said that Cohen "is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows, not just about the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American Democracy system in the 2016 election...but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on."

While Trump did not mention either legal development at a West Virginia rally Tuesday night, he took to Twitter this morning to attempt to defend Manafort and discredit Cohen. "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. 'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal,'" Trump tweeted. "Such respect for a brave man!"

Quotes of note...

  • Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief Gerald Seib called it "the darkest day of the Trump presidency so far." MSNBC's Chuck Todd said it may be the most "consequential" day of Trump's tenure.
  • A Trumpworld source referred to the hour when both Manafort and Cohen were in court as "the 4pm slaughter" to ABC White House correspondent Tara Palmeri; CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza declared it to be "the worst hour of Donald Trump's presidency."
  • "Everything that happened in a pair of courtrooms hundreds of miles apart strengthened the hand of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and weakened that of the president of the United States," Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz wrote. "This was a day when truth overran tweets, when facts overwhelmed bald assertions."
  • According to the New York Times, President Trump "now faces an increasingly grim legal and political landscape," as aides privately said Tuesday "that they were having trouble assessing how devastating the day's legal events might be."
  • Per the Times' Maggie Haberman, "Trump allies and advisers privately say the office of the presidency is protecting him from what he might otherwise face." In a tweet about the illegal payments his client made (allegedly at Trump's direction), Lanny Davis asked: "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?"
  • "It's really the giant beginning of the unraveling of the Trump presidency," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley declared.

Oh, and: President Trump received even more bad news on Tuesday (keep reading)...

Other storylines from Tuesday...

Some other problematic storylines President Trump faced on Tuesday:

  • Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his wife Margaret were indicted by a federal grand jury for using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses and filing false records with the Federal Election Commission. Hunter was the second member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump; the first, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), was also indicted earlier this month.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller's team sought in a court filing to push back former national security adviser Michael Flynn's sentencing once again, signaling that Flynn is continuing to cooperate and offering valuable information to the investigation.
  • The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), delivered a joint statement announcing that they had "re-engaged" with Michael Cohen, calling for him to appear before their panel once again to testify about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
  • Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman continued her media tour, sharing a video with MSNBC's Chris Matthews of Michael Cohen boarding the Trump campaign plane in September 2016, attempting to prove Cohen's involvement in the campaign.
  • The Washington Post reported that Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow hosted Peter Brimelow, the publisher of a website that promotes white nationalism, at his home for a birthday bash last weekend. The party was one day after a White House speechwriter was fired amid revelations that he spoke at a conference alongside Brimelow.
  • Trump experienced his first loss in a 2018 Republican primary, as his favored candidate in Wyoming's gubernatorial primary, GOP megadonor Foster Friess, was defeated by State Treasurer Mark Gordon, 26% to 33%.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency rolled out an overhaul of federal pollution restrictions on coal-burning power plants; the Trump administration's own analysis found that the changes could lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030.

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 12:45pm, President Trump has lunch with Defense Secretary James Mattis. At 3:30pm, Trump posthumously presents the Medal of Honor to the late U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman, for heroic gallantry under enemy fire while serving in Afghanistan in 2002.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Corpus Christi, Texas today. At 1pm, he tours First Baptist Church of Rockport and meets local disaster relief volunteers. At 1:15pm, he participates in a briefing on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. At 12:45pm, Pence will speak at the First Baptist Church. Pence will then travel to Houston, participating in a Trump Victory event at 5:45pm.

Congress schedule

Senate: The upper chamber meets at 10am today to resume consideration of the Defense-Labor-HHS-Education appropriations "minibus" package.

House: The lower chamber is not in session today.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

*All times Eastern

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