WASHINGTON — Within minutes on Tuesday, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty, and Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and trusted adviser, pleaded guilty and implicated the president in violations of campaign finance laws.
On a day that would have crippled any other politician, Trump eagerly took the stage at an arena in Charleston, W. Va., a state he won by 42 percentage points in 2016. He spoke for an hour and 16 minutes, never mentioning Manafort or Cohen. Instead, he talked about about everything else: Special Counsel Robert Mueller, “fake news,” “clean, beautiful West Virginia coal,” his mother’s turkey-cooking skills, and “winning.”
The sign-waving crowd cheered and chanted on cue: “USA, USA, USA” and “Trump, Trump, Trump.” The cultural disconnect evident in the scenes of the rally and the furrowed brows of analysts on CNN and MSNBC parsing the implications of today’s legal action couldn’t have been more pronounced on a busy news day. To top it off, a Republican member of the House from California, Rep. Duncan Hunter, was indicted on corruption charges for alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was mocked on Sunday for telling “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd in a live interview that “truth isn’t truth,” a comment that he later clarified.
In the coming months, we will likely see even more of a divergence in the “truth,” better defined as the perception of what is going on with the Trump presidency.
The numbers bear out the different realities: Trump remains underwater in just about every presidential approval poll, but not among his core supporters. A Pew Research Center survey showed that 82% of those who voted for Trump said they still felt “warmly” toward him as of March of this year.
Tuesday’s bombshell stories already were being treated in the national media as a turning point in the Trump presidency, with references to the Watergate era convictions of John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s former campaign chairman, and his White House counsel, John Dean.
“BIG DAY: We have learned that we have a criminal President of the United States, who was elected by deceiving the American people. And a man who does not respect the foundation of our nation — the rule of law,” Dean himself wrote on Twitter.
But we’ll also see more of Trump away from Washington and in the forum he relishes, the rallies where he can gestate in the enthusiasm of his most loyal supporters. Trump is planning to be out on the trail for 40 days during the fall midterm campaigns, according to reports from the White House, and likely will use the platform to make the case that America is on the upswing.
His Tuesday rally certainly showed that his supporters are unfazed by or unbelieving of the convictions of Manafort and Cohen, what with rallygoers wearing “Drain the Swamp” T-shirts and breaking out into a chant of “Lock Her Up.”
Fox News was the only news network to carry the entirety of the rally live, and while it covered the courtroom developments, it also featured another story more prominently on its website: The suspect in the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbets is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
Appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show, Alan Dershowitz also made a reference to Watergate — but said it was “unfair” to name someone as an “unindicted co-conspirator” just as Nixon was in the 1970s. “This is the beginning of a story that will unravel over time. It’s not nearly as deadly lethal as some have portrayed it as being,” he said.
Had the jury deadlocked or acquitted Manafort on all counts, as looked possible as their deliberations dragged on the past few days, Trump likely would have used it as ammunition in his attacks on Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”
He continues to do so, but the next few weeks will offer further challenges for the White House.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that they have “recently re-engaged” Cohen and broached another appearance before the committee as part of the Russia investigation. Manafort’s next trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 17. Cohen’s lawyer told Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night that his client is now “liberated” to tell the truth to Mueller.
Also not to be forgotten: Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” publishes on Sept. 11.