What do Cohen and Manafort convictions mean for Trump?

After four days of deliberation and wall-to-wall breathless news coverage speculating about the likely outcome, news broke in Alexandria that the jury in the case of Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had reached a verdict.

Well, eight to be precise.

Minutes later, we learned that the jurors could not unanimously decide on 10 counts and that the judge had declared a mistrial on those.

It was a fittingly mixed conclusion to a complicated case.

Paul Manafort arrives for his court hearing on 15 June
Paul Manafort arrives for his court hearing on 15 June

But one aspect was glaringly clear – this was the first conviction for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

The guilty verdict may strengthen Mr Mueller’s hand as he continues to investigate possible conspiracy and seeks an interview with the president.

An acquittal could have led to a broader effort by conservatives to shut down the special counsel’s office.

In Washington, when it rains it pours and within moments, news broke of another stunning development: Mr Trump’s long-term lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws in connection to payments to two women, including former porn star Stormy Daniels.

The alleged aim?

To influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr Cohen was part of Mr Trump's inner circle for many years
Mr Cohen was part of Mr Trump’s inner circle for many years
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is heading up the Russia probe in possible collusion
Special counsel Robert Mueller is heading up the Russia probe in possible collusion

In his plea deal, he said he acted “in co-ordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”.

Cohen said he would never turn on the president, that he would take a bullet for him.

Was he now suggesting he broke laws under Mr Trump’s direction?

And will he now co-operate with the Russia investigation?

The plea agreement does not preclude him from providing information to the special counsel.

The two stories sparked an instant flurry of questions just as the president was on Air Force One on his way to a rally in West Virginia.

Whatever Republican strategists or voters say, two things are indisputable and Mr Trump won’t like either of them: two of his former allies are going to jail and there is no end in sight yet for the Mueller probe.

Cohen appears to be alleging that Mr Trump directed him to commit two separate criminal offences to silence two women and to influence the course of the American election.

Cohen’s integrity has of course been heavily questioned and he may well be lying.

But the allegations take the president from the frying pan and into the fire – seemingly framing him as a co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor of a federal crime.

His supporters and a sceptical public may well be primed to pour water on any such suggestion, but their job is about to get a lot harder.

As Mr Trump stepped off the plane in Charleston ready to greet another strong and enthusiastic crowd, he sought to defend Paul Manafort while trying to keep a distance from his former chairman: “Paul Manafort is a good man. It doesn’t involve me but it’s a very sad thing what happened.”

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He was quick to assert that the case had nothing to do with Russian collusion and called the prosecution a “witch-hunt”.

However you define the search – it has now potentially placed the president in significant legal jeopardy.