They say a man is known by the company he keeps. President Donald Trump has notably kept some questionable company in his past, but to that list of dubious characters he can now add two felons.
With the conviction of his former presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of his longtime attorney Michael Cohen on Tuesday, lingering doubts and concerns about the people with whom the president has surrounded himself are once again front and center.
They never really went away, of course. Dishonesty, outlandish statements and problematic personnel choices overshadow Mr. Trump’s achievements in office during the first portion of his presidency. These self-inflicted wounds have hampered his ability to govern as effectively as possible.
Now, with the president implicated in possible campaign finance crimes and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election gathering momentum, the stakes are higher than ever.
It must be emphasized that the twin blows in separate courtrooms Tuesday did nothing to further the Russia collusion narrative, which remains unproven after two years of intensive investigations. But neither is Mr. Trump in the clear.
For now, Mr. Cohen presents the greatest danger to the president. In pleading guilty to campaign finance charges, Mr. Cohen said he made payments to a former adult film actress and a former Playboy model “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”
None of this is tremendously surprising. Stories about hush money paid to porn stars during Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign have made headlines off and on for months. Mr. Cohen’s admission simply confirms what most had already suspected.
Campaign finance violations, while serious, are almost certainly not enough to indict a sitting president. The scenario heightens the stakes for the mid-term elections, however. If the Democrats seize the reins of Congress, they could clog the rest of Mr. Trump’s first term with endless investigations and inquiries — including possible impeachment proceedings.
Mr. Manafort’s upcoming second trial promises to be intriguing as well. His long-standing ties to Ukrainian politicians with Russian sympathies made Mr. Manafort an ideal target for the special counsel’s investigation. With the prospect of significant prison time hanging over his head — and with the possibility of a presidential pardon unlikely — Mr. Manafort has an incentive to be forthright and cooperative.
But leaders in both parties must resist the temptation to exaggerate what has happened this week. Effectively, we have learned only what we already knew — that President Trump is a generally poor judge of character.
This is more troubling than many Republicans have been willing to readily admit. It is hardly an impeachable offense, however, at least given the evidence currently on display. And all of this flap must seem perplexing to voters on both sides who have long been aware of Mr. Trump’s highly visible flaws.
Regardless, two unscrupulous men faced justice this week. It’s not likely what Mr. Trump had in mind during his repeated calls to “drain the swamp.” But we welcome a higher, drier White House and encourage both the president and Mr. Mueller to evict any remaining swamp creatures posthaste.