As It Happens

Republican strategist defends Trump amid Cohen, Manafort convictions

After two of Donald Trump's former top aides were convicted of criminal activity on Tuesday, Republican strategist Michael Caputo says he's glad the U.S. president is "still standing in the face of that kind of activity from the swamp."

'I believe that the rule of law in the United States has been perverted,' says Michael Caputo

U.S. President Donald Trump, centre, is facing political turmoil after his ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, right, was convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, left, copped a plea deal during which he implicated the president on campaign finance violations. (Craig Ruttle/Associated Press, Oliver Contreras, Mandel Ngan/Getty Images )
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After two of Donald Trump's former top aides were convicted of criminal activity on Tuesday, Republican strategist Michael Caputo says he's glad the U.S. president is "still standing in the face of that kind of activity from the swamp."

Trump's ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud by a jury on Tuesday. It was first trial to come out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into allegations the Republicans colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

At the same time,Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, saying that Trump ordered him to pay hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to cover up his alleged affairs.

Caputo, a former adviser to Trump, spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann on Wednesday. Here is part of their conversation.

Is it tough today to be a Republican strategist?

Getting the guilty verdict on Paul Manafort was tough on Paul, tough on his friends. 

But it really wasn't tough on the president.

None of the crimes that Paul was accused of ... included Donald Trump or even touched his administration.

But what about Michael Cohen? That's what I want to get to because, of course, he implicated the president in his plea yesterday, saying that he was ordered to make those payments by Mr. Trump.

That's more problematic. At the very minimum, it is a negative story that we'll be hearing about for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo says the prosecutions of Manafort and Cohen are part of a larger campaign by the U.S. Department of Justice to torpedo the Trump presidency. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Do you think that Michael Cohen is lying? Do you have any evidence that he is?

I don't have any evidence of Michael Cohen lying, but I also have no evidence that he's telling the truth.

Every member of the media that's covered the Trump campaign and the Trump administration will tell you ... he is the most unreliable source in the whole entire Trump organization.

It's interesting now to see reporters talking about how Michael Cohen is some paragon of virtue.

You will have noted, of course, as we all have that the president has been tweeting about this today. Are you concerned at all about a president who praises one convicted man over another, saying that at least the one didn't "'break'" to prosecutors?

I'm not the least bit concerned about that. 

The fact of the matter is this: Paul Manafort is a good man who the president knew during the summer of 2016 as someone who ... helped him secure the Republican nomination at the convention. 

He likes Paul Manafort. And I believe the president feels badly for Paul and his family. 

When you understand the way that the Department of Justice has weaponized the department to go after the president and to destroy the president — to destroy his family, to destroy his businesses and to destroy his friends — when you understand that, then you understand why the president feels badly.

You seem to believe, then, that this is, as the president says, "a witch hunt." And yet you have convictions and [the Manafort case] was a trial by jury. Are you suggesting that the jury was, you know, part of this witch hunt?

That's the silliest thing I've heard today, and I've talk to a lot of reporters today.

I believe the jury, which deliberated for much longer than the reporting class thought they should, came back with their best verdict. We'll see how that plays out in the appeal process, which is also, by the way, part of the American rule of law.

I understand why you and others in the liberal media want to throw the president out with the bathwater. That's not going to happen. He was elected to lead the United States. And he'll be here, just south of you, for many years to come.

Is there anything you can imagine coming out that would shake your confidence and your support for this president?

I believe the rule of law in the United States has been perverted. I believe that there are actors within the Department of Justice and other parts of the intelligence community that overstepped their bounds and even broke the law to stop this presidency.

I'm glad he's still standing in the face of that kind of activity from the swamp.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. For the full interview, listen to the audio in the player above.

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