Two of Donald Trump’s closest ex-aides face jail for multiple financial crimes

Two of Donald Trump’s closest former aides are facing prison for multiple financial crimes in a stunning double blow to the White House.

The US president’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on Tuesday of eight of the 18 charges he faced in a case of bank and tax fraud.

And within minutes, it was announced Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to eight charges relating to financial fraud.

Close friend Cohen – who once said he would "take a bullet for Trump" – was introduced to the future president in 2006.

Their relationship began to fall apart when porn star Stormy Daniels claimed she had an affair with Trump and Cohen paid her off.

And while Manafort’s case focused on interactions with the Ukrainian government prior to his time at the head of Trump’s campaign in 2016, it grew out of the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea is a critical moment for Trump’s presidency.

Today’s double blow is the latest in a string of dramatic legal developments that could have huge repercussions for the US president.

Manafort, the political operative who for months led Trump’s winning presidential campaign, has been found guilty of eight financial crimes in the first trial victory of the special counsel investigation into the president’s associates.

A judge declared a mistrial on 10 other counts the jury could not agree on.

The verdict was part a stunning one-two punch of bad news for the White House which broke as Cohen was pleading guilty in New York as part of a separate deal with prosecutors.

The jury returned the decision after deliberating for four days on the charges of tax evasion and bank fraud against the former Trump campaign chairman.

The outcome almost certainly guarantees years of prison for Manafort and establishes the ability of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to persuade a jury of average citizens despite months of partisan attacks – including from Trump – on the investigation’s integrity.

The verdict raised immediate questions of whether the president would seek to pardon Manafort, the lone American charged by Mr Mueller to opt for trial instead of cooperate.

The president has not revealed his thinking but spoke sympathetically throughout the trial of his onetime aide, at one point suggesting he had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone.

The more-than-two-week trial, presided over by US District Judge TS Ellis III, has captured President Trump’s attention as he works to undermine Mr Mueller’s investigation through a constant Twitter barrage and increasingly antagonistic statements from his lawyer-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani.

But Trump and his campaign were only a small part of Manafort’s trial, as jurors instead heard days of testimony about Manafort’s finances and what prosecutors say was a years-long tax-evasion and fraud scheme.

Manafort decided not to put on any witnesses or testify himself in the trial. His lawyers said he made the decision because he did not believe the government had met its burden of proof.

Meanwhile, Cohen today pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges, saying he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office.

Cohen, 51, appearing in federal court in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution.

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He said he arranged to make payments "for (the) principal purpose of influencing (the) election" at the direction of a candidate for federal office but did not give the candidate’s name.

Cohen, who agreed to a plea bargain with federal prosecutors earlier in the day, also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution.

His voice cracked as he answered questions from Judge William Pauley III.

Federal prosecutors in New York began investigating Cohen after a referral from Mr Mueller.

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