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Ohio lawmakers respond to Cohen, Manafort developments

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As President Trump and his allies double down in his defense, lawmakers and experts said Wednesday the nation may have to wait until after the midterm elections to see any fallout from the recent guilty plea of the President’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

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President Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally in support of the Senate candidacy of West Virginia's Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va.

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The political world is abuzz following the near-simultaneous developments in the legal proceedings of Mr. Trump’s former associates. Cohen plead guilty to eight counts of tax evasion and campaign finance violations this week, while Manafort was found guilty of five tax fraud charges, two counts of bank fraud, and one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts.

But how the outcome of those court proceedings will affect the President remained unclear Wednesday. Supporters of President Trump asserted that the nation’s leader has done nothing wrong, while opponents decried what they described as corruption and criminal activity in the White House’s orbit.

Saikrishna Prakash, the James Monroe Professor and Miller Center Fellow at the University of Virginia School of Law, said it seems unlikely that special counsel Robert Mueller would pursue an indictment against President Trump. What is more likely, he said, is Congress will receive a report from Mr. Mueller at the conclusion of his investigation and then have to determine whether his findings rise to the level of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” needed to impeach a federal official.

For now, Republicans aren’t going to start impeachment proceedings against the President and Democrats won’t want to begin impeachment proceedings before the upcoming midterm elections, unless Republicans are leading the charge, Mr. Prakash said.

To impeach a president, Congress has to pass articles of impeachment by a majority vote, then two-thirds of the Senate has to vote to convict the President.

Mr. Prakash, the professor, said the Mueller investigation outcome will be telling.

“What Mueller can do is prepare a report that discusses any Trump contacts with Russia during the campaign, that discusses possible obstruction of justice, and possible campaign finance violations,” Mr. Prakash said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said the guilty plea and guilty verdict show the Mueller investigation is rooting out corruption in the political system and should be allowed to proceed.

“I want the President to come clean and tell the American people everything he knows so we can get to the bottom of exactly what happened and get on with the business of rebuilding our infrastructure and creating jobs,” Mr. Brown said.

Republican Jim Renacci, who is challenging Mr. Brown for his Senate seat in November, defended the President and railed Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“Despite yesterday’s media hysteria over entirely unrelated proceedings involving Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, Bob Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion appears to be as fruitless today as it’s been throughout its long and costly 18-month existence,” the Wadsworth, Ohio congressman said.

Charges against both Cohen and Manafort come as Mr. Mueller investigates whether the President and his administration were involved in Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Manafort was brought to trial as part of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

Cohen said in court that before the election, President Trump directed him to arrange payments of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy their silence about alleged affairs. The President has denied having affairs with both women.

“As the President has said and we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Marc Clauson, a history and law professor at Cedarville University in Ohio, said impeachment seems unlikely “unless there was something more sinister behind the Cohen issue.”

“[Critics are] arguing that because the purposes of the payment was tied to Trump as a candidate, it is a campaign expenditure,” he said. “That’s very vague in law; that’s going to be very hard to prove.

“If he were actually prosecuted for that as a candidate, he could be liable for repayment. It would amount to a minor campaign infraction.”

Still, Ohio’s Democratic lawmakers blasted the President’s administration for Cohen’s and Manafort’s crimes.

“The road to justice is long but today we are one step closer to learning the full picture of the crimes committed during the run-up to President Trump’s election,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said. “From bank fraud to lying to federal officials to campaign finance violations, there is a clear culture of corruption and criminal activity prevalent among some of the President’s closest advisers. As the American people digest this news, it is critical we ensure that the Mueller investigation continues without interference.”

Republicans were shorter in their statements and stuck mostly to describing the facts of the developments.

“Mr. Manafort faced a jury of his peers and was convicted for activities conducted before he joined the Trump campaign. Mr. Cohen made the decision to plead guilty and will now be sentenced based on the crimes he admitted to,” U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said.

Emily Benavides, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Rob Portman, said: “Rob has consistently said the special counsel should follow the facts wherever they lead and he hopes

Contact Liz Skalka at lskalka@theblade.com, 419-724-6199, or on Twitter @lizskalka.

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