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Fallout continued today after a guilty plea and a guilty verdict for two men with close ties to President Trump in federal court on a combined 16 counts, ranging from tax fraud to campaign finance violations. Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins and Larry Noble, a campaign finance expert and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest developments.
The fallout from the guilty plea and conviction of two men close to President Trump escalated today, raising the question of whether Mr. Trump has broken the law.
As Yamiche Alcindor reports, the president's supporters remain in his camp.
President Donald Trump:
It's a witch-hunt and it's a disgrace.
President Trump, under pressure and defiant, pushing back about what he knew about hush money his former lawyer Michael Cohen gave to two women during the 2016 campaign.
Under oath yesterday, Cohen said Mr. Trump directed him to make those payments to keep the women from talking publicly about alleged affairs.
The president told FOX News he did nothing wrong.
Later on, I knew, later on.
But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did — and they weren't taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign.
They came from me, and I have tweeted about it.
On Capitol Hill, the response from Republican senators ranged from cautious…
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:
All we really know for sure is that there was a plea agreement and he's pled guilty. And everything else is speculation.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:
These are serious charges and they can't be ignored. I don't think he can be indicted while sitting in office.
To defensive of the president
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.:
I don't see any evidence that the president knew they committed these crimes. But they are crimes.
Some Democratic senators have raised alarm bells.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.:
We're in a constitutional maelstrom, literally a crisis that we haven't seen since Watergate. I think all the remedies ought to be on the table, including indictment.
But most put the brakes on calls for impeachment.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.:
I think impeachment talk is something that is not something that we should be engaging in right now. I hope that we don't see, you know, people celebrating.
All this poured in less than 24 hours after two men close to the president and his campaign were declared guilty, each on eight criminal counts.
In Virginia, a jury found former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud. Two minutes later, hundreds of miles away in New York, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion and campaign finance violations.
Hours after the news broke, at a rally in West Virginia, the president didn't mention his two former confidants. But he continued to attack the overall Russia probe.
Fake news and the Russian witch-hunt, we got a whole big combination.
Where is the collusion?
By early this morning, the president unleashed on Twitter, writing, "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen."
At that rally last night, ahead of November's midterm elections, most of Mr. Trump's supporters remained firmly on his side.
He had an affair that might have hurt his marriage. Any man would be — would be ashamed of that. Any man would feel — would not want that to get out. Any man who's a man, like I believe Donald Trump is, wouldn't want his wife — would not — would regret that. So he's a boss, so he's going to say, pay them off.
Others dismissed the Russia probe altogether.
I agree with him. I think it's garbage. We have got better things to worry about in this world. I would be not telling the truth if I said things like that didn't bother me, because I don't like anybody that's dishonest, but, again, you can't control anybody but yourself.
Back on Capitol Hill today, some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, took their criticism a step further. They're calling for a delay in next month's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:
It is unseemly for the president of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court justice who could soon be, effectively, a juror in a case involving the president himself.
Others, like Hawaii's Mazie Hirono, won't be meeting with the nominee at all.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:
I will be canceling my appointment with Judge Kavanaugh because I choose not to extend the courtesy to this president, who is an unindicted co-conspirator.
As the political battle continues, so do several investigations into Russia interference.
And White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor joins me now, along with our Capitol Hill correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, and Larry Noble. He's a campaign finance expert and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.
Larry Noble, I'm going to turn to you before I turn to my "NewsHour" colleagues to clarify, what is the violation here, if any, of campaign finance laws? We have had one version. We have heard from Michael Cohen in the courtroom yesterday his plea. And then the president today saying something different.
How do you interpret all this?
Well, if what Michael Cohen has said is true, and if the information that the U.S. attorney presented is true, then you have several campaign finance violations.
You have a corporate contribution, because it looks like the Trump Organization paid for — reimbursed for the payments. You have another corporate contribution from American Media, if that's the company they're referring to, paying for other payments for Karen McDougal.
This is The National Enquirer, a publisher, right.
National Enquirer paying for payments for Karen McDougal.
You have excessive contributions by Michael Cohen, because when he first paid out the money to Stormy McDaniels — Stormy Daniels, then that was a contribution from him until he was reimbursed, so it was an illegal contribution.
So, you have — then you have a failure to report all of this.
So, and when the president said today, the money came from me personally, there is still a disagreement between the two men about whether the president knew and directed this. The president says he didn't know at the time, after having said he didn't know at all, and now he says he did.
But the president is saying, the money came from me personally, that it wasn't a campaign contribution.
So, what difference would that make?
It doesn't make any difference. In fact, it makes it worse.
So, the way this should have been handled is, the money should have been come from the campaign, and it should have been reported as a campaign expenditure. For obvious reasons, they didn't want to do this.
But saying it didn't come from the campaign means it was an illegal contribution, because somebody else paid for it, when it should have come from the campaign.
The really — the really important part here is that Michael Cohen admitted and said that this was for the purpose of influencing the election.
Once he said that, that turned all of this into — all of these into campaign contributions, which should have come from the campaign. So, unfortunately for Mr. Trump, once he said this didn't come from the campaign, it doesn't get rid of the problem. It actually adds to the problem.
So, with all this as background, Yamiche, we heard you in West Virginia last night talking to these folks who still are supporting the president very strongly, despite all this news.
What do you — what is your understanding of why — why that is?
Well, remarkably, most supporters I spoke to just didn't care.
They fell into two categories. The first category are people who look at this and say, the president hasn't been convicted of any charges, he's not been indicted of anything, there's all these people around him who are in legal trouble, and maybe it's people that he shouldn't have trusted, but that he actually didn't do anything wrong.
At least two supporters told me that, unless he — unless the president commits treason, or unless he shoots somebody, they're going to continue to support him.
The second category..
Unless he shoots someone?
The second category of people said that essentially Mr. Trump might have problems if he actually did have — if he actually is proven guilty of something. But, as of now, they're still optimistic that that isn't going to happen. And they said that this is between Trump and God.
Most surprisingly, there was a young man named Sean Bailey who told me that President Trump was trying to protect first lady Melania Trump, that he was — it was an act of chivalry by protecting these women and paying them off, he said, because he sees this as the president really doing what he should do as a man.
So, Lisa, you have been talking to people on Capitol Hill, trying to gauge whether there's a political fallout from that, among other things, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh somewhat up in the air.
What are you learning?
This is actually a quandary for both parties. But let's talk about Democrats and how they approach Mr. Kavanaugh. As you saw, Mazie Hirono has come out and said, I'm not going to meet with him because of what happened in court yesterday.
Now we have seen Chuck Schumer and other Democrats calling for a delay in the Kavanaugh hearings, which are scheduled for a week-and-a-half from today.
Now, the problem for Democrats is, the argument they're making is sort of pieced together on many fronts. When you ask them, why should what Michael Cohen said about the president have an effect on this nominee for the Supreme Court, they say, well, we think the president is tainted by this indictment. And we also think that this is a nominee who has specific feelings about executive power and may protect the president.
But then their argument after that, I think, becomes more political. They point again to the need for documents. They come to other areas. I think, Judy, what you have is Democrats under tremendous pressure to try and block this nominee from their base, but they don't have the votes to do it on their own.
So, Yamiche, given that backdrop of what's going on, on the Hill, you have been talking to other people at the White House, here in Washington. How are they dealing with all this?
Publicly, they are rushing to try to change the narrative.
You had the president talking to FOX News after this at the White House trying to defiantly say that he did nothing wrong. And then you had Sarah Sanders — Sarah Sanders from the podium putting together a press briefing at the last minute to say that, again, that the president did nothing wrong.
But behind the scenes, I'm hearing and a lot of other reporters are hearing that White House aides are rattled, that they're worried that the president could be legally held liable for this.
I had a long conversation with Lanny Davis, who you also spoke with for the broadcast. He's the attorney from Michael Cohen. And he said that the president should be indicted because he committed crimes.
But, of course, that's a gray legal area.
And, Lisa, back to you.
We keep — we're bringing up politics, midterm elections coming in early November.
It's early, it's speculation, but what's your sense of how that could be affected?
There's concern from Republicans that this may affect things in some districts, not every district.
I spoke to John Cornyn, senator from Texas. He is a Trump ally. He said he doesn't believe Michael Cohen, thinks he is lying. But, nonetheless, he thinks — he said, in his words, these accusations don't help their cause.
Now, on the other hand, Democrats also are concerned that rising calls for impeachment that they see from their more progressive members could harm some of the members that have a chance to flip swing districts.
I spoke to two new candidates for Democrats who hope to unseat Republicans, to their campaigns. They said they aren't going to bring up impeachment. They say that doesn't help them. What they might talk about, though, Judy, is corruption from other Republican members of Congress, like Duncan Hunter, who is now indicted, or Chris Collins, who is indicted.
They don't want to talk about the president and impeachment in those swing districts. But they will talk about corruption more generally.
So many strands to this story. But it's important. And it's important to hear all these perspectives.
Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, Larry Noble, thank you.
Watch the Full Episode
Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff is the anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
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