Trump suffers double-blow as two former associates face charges

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Donald Trump has confronted one of the most perilous moments of his presidency after a former lawyer pleaded guilty to campaign financing charges and a former election chief was convicted of fraud.

Although the US president largely ignored the jarring back-to-back blows at a campaign rally in West Virginia, questions mounted about his possible legal exposure and political future.

Mr Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of financial crimes at nearly the same moment Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a series of charges on Tuesday.

The crimes including campaign finance violations that the lawyer said he carried out in coordination with Trump.

The president spent more than an hour at a rally in Charleston painting a rosy view of his accomplishments in office, ticking off developments on trade, taxes, North Korea and even his plans for a space force.

"What we're doing is winning," Mr Trump told cheering supporters.

"Where is the collusion?" he demanded, underscoring that Manafort's crimes had occurred before he became involved with Mr Trump's campaign.

"You know they're still looking for collusion," the president said.

Mr Trump did say he felt "badly for both" men, but he largely ignored Cohen's guilty pleas to eight felonies.

Manafort was convicted on Tuesday in Virginia on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice.

Cohen pleaded guilty in New York, saying he and Trump had arranged the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to influence the election.

It is the Cohen case that places Trump in the most jeopardy, legal experts said, as the longtime personal "fixer" acknowledged his role in a scheme to pay off women who accused the future president of sexual misconduct.

"It's going to be hard for the president to try to discredit all this. It's circling him," said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in the case.