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Opinion What a presidential president would have said about Cohen’s and Manafort’s crimes

President Trump.
President Trump. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

THIS WEEK President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations — implicating Mr. Trump in the latter. His former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted in a separate trial on eight counts of financial fraud. The president reacted by attacking Mr. Cohen for cooperating with prosecutors, praising Mr. Manafort as “brave” for refusing to do so and criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to protect him at the Justice Department.

Here is how a presidential president might have reacted:

“I was saddened by Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort’s wrongdoing. They are guilty of serious felonies. Their frauds reflect neither smarts nor savvy, but misshapen and dishonest characters. Ordinary Americans pay their taxes, tell the truth to their lenders and contribute to political campaigns within the boundaries of the law. There are no special exceptions for the rich and connected.

“These were men who occupied powerful posts in my campaign and my business. It is not an honor to me or a good day for the country when men of such position are confirmed to be criminals. But at least I and other Americans can take comfort in the fact that the justice system once again proved that no one is above the law.

“That includes your president. I am confident that I did nothing wrong, and Americans should have confidence that I have nothing to hide. That is why I look forward to telling special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and any other federal prosecutor involved in these cases everything I know. I will also release my tax returns and other information regarding my business activities before and during my presidency to show that I held myself to higher standards than Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort.

“I will not pretend this has been an easy time for me or my family, and I will defend myself against any allegation of wrongdoing, stemming from either the Cohen matter or the Russia probe. But the only way this ends well is through a full and fair airing of the facts. Large portions of the country would question the legitimacy of my presidency if it were not for the independence that the Justice Department’s leaders, whom I am proud to have nominated, have shown. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was right to recuse himself from matters involving the Russia investigation and anything relating to my 2016 campaign. He was too involved in that campaign to credibly oversee investigations touching it. Luckily, Mr. Sessions chose a solid second-in-command in Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a fine career Justice Department lawyer. And Mr. Rosenstein could not have picked a more reputable special counsel to investigate Russia’s clear attack on our democracy in 2016 — and anyone who helped the Kremlin.

“I look forward to seeing Mr. Mueller’s conclusions and working with Congress to enact strong election security measures that respond to the Kremlin’s continuing assaults. The Senate has a good bill that would help coordinate federal and state security efforts, encourage voting machines with paper trails and press for solid post-election audits. The bill would be a good first step, and I want to sign it.

“Meantime, Americans should have patience as the Justice Department’s professionals complete their work. I have every confidence in our criminal-justice system, which has so long preserved the nation’s most important asset: the rule of law.”

Read more:

Paul Waldman: In his feud with Jeff Sessions, Trump has painted himself into a corner:

Jennifer Rubin: If any Republican is going to challenge Trump, now’s a good time to speak up

Catherine Rampell: No collusion? We’ll see. But what about tax fraud?

Michael Gerson: A cancer on the presidency

Eugene Robinson: Trump the mob boss wants protection