Editorial

Where guilt lies: on Manafort conviction

The long-term survivability of the Donald Trump administration fell into doubt this week after two of the U.S. President’s former associates came under the shadow of guilt for eight separate felonies each, all serious political and financial crimes. First, Mr. Trump’s former attorney and self-declared “fix-it guy”, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, admitting that “at the direction of a candidate” of the 2016 presidential campaign he made $130,000 in “hush money” payments to stop porn star Stormy Daniels from going public about an alleged extramarital affair. Second, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on charges of bank and tax fraud relating to his role as a political consultant for pro-Russian entities in Ukraine. While he faces a separate criminal trial in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election, his conviction pertained to undisclosed income and bank accounts, and illegal borrowings associated with his Ukrainian operations. Mr. Trump appeared to shrug off the impact that these high-profile convictions could have on his administration, even tweeting that unlike Mr. Cohen, Mr. Manafort “refused to break” under prosecutorial pressure and that he had “such respect for a brave man!”

While it may be the case that Mr. Trump’s proximity to these events makes him an “unindicted co-conspirator”, experts believe the President is immune from routine criminal prosecution while he holds office. The second potential course of action for the prosecution is to rely on Congress to impeach him if there is evidence of wrongdoing. Whether Congress would do so is unclear. Even if the House of Representatives comes under the control of Democrats after the November mid-term elections, there is little doubt that a Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds “super majority” is required to convict a person being impeached, would expediently nix any such proceedings or acquit Mr. Trump. The Republican Party cannot be unaware that it currently lacks decisive leadership at the top, and that Mr. Trump has singlehandedly rallied conservatives of all shades around its banner as no other candidate could. Why would they spoil his innings? Historically, impeachments have begun strongly at the House, but success or failure has depended on which party controlled the Senate. Three Presidents have faced the proceedings and two of them, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, were impeached but got acquitted by the Senate. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned when it became certain his impeachment would pass both chambers. Mr. Trump may also consider presidential pardons for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort, as he did for conservative provocateurs Dinesh D’Souza and Joe Arpaio. Yet there is a lack of legal precedent on whether he could pardon himself.


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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 3:30:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/where-guilt-lies/article24763503.ece

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