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Manafort’s Deal and the Rest of It

The news is quite jam-packed these days, what with the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and that unexpected plot twist temporarily tying up a Supreme Court nomination, but the latest development in the ongoing “Russia thing” is still worth noting. A former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump’s improbable yet winning candidacy has lately pleaded guilty to some serious charges involving his shady dealings with Russians, and in exchange for a lighter sentence on those charges and some other serious financial crimes he was recently convicted of in another trial he’s now offering cooperation with a special counsel investigation into the ongoing “Russia thing.”
This might or might not yet prove the development that brings down Trump’s presidency, but it in almost any case we can’t imagine it’s good news for Trump. Even in his pre-felon days former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was boastfully a lobbyist for the Russia-friendly Ukrainian government that was overthrown in a pro-freedom coup, the stereotypically cruel and corrupt African warlord Jonas Savimbi, and various other authoritarian strongmen around the world. One of his partners in the lobbying firm was Roger Stone, one of the self-described “Rat Fucker” dirty tricksters in President Richard Nixon’s Watergate-era campaign, who has freely admitted to several newspapers and various cable news networks that he’s clearly “Person A” in previous indictments and the next one to be charged with various crimes. Another named partner in that notorious lobbying firm was Rick Gates, who long ago pleaded guilty to various serious charges and has since provided evidence against Manafort in that recent trial which ended so unfortunately for Manafort.
It remains to be seen what the former campaign chairman might testify about the next-higher-up in the campaign hierarchy, but at this point it’s unlikely to redound to the benefit of Trump. Manafort guided the campaign through a slightly reluctant Republican party nominating convention, which suspiciously changed its platform about arming the Ukrainian nationalists resisting Russian occupation, and he was in on the Trump Tower meeting with some shady Russians who had clearly indicated in an undisputed e-mail chain released by Donald Trump Jr. that they were offering campaign assistance on behalf of the Russian government, and we guess he potentially has all sorts of other tales to tell.
Trump had “tweeted” his profound respect for Manafort’s character back when his friend was still holding out against extreme prosecutorial pressure to “flip,” but we notice that since Manafort’s apparent “flipping” Trump’s “twitter” feed has been conspicuously silent on the subject. Trump has plenty else to “tweet” about these days, given the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and the unnecessarily renewed controversy about the horrific death toll in last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, not to mention that complicated situation with the Supreme Court nominee, and we can well understand why he’d rather not we were thinking about that ongoing “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up, and despite Trump’s stupid trade wars and the swelling national deficit the economy seems swell enough, but it’s hard for even all that to crowd out the rest of a jam-packed news cycle. The past and present hurricanes and a Supreme Court nominee credibly accused of sexual assault and everything we already now about the “Russia thing” make for a perform storm, even without all the hush-money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the rest of it, so we predict a few more unfavorable news cycles leading up to the mid-term elections. After that, we’ll not be at all surprised by anything that might happen.

— Bud Norman

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“Flipping” One’s Way to the Truth

Anyone who’s ever seen “The Godfather Part II” or countless other crime dramas well knows how federal investigations into criminal enterprises go. First they catch some low-level figure red-handed, then they offer a lighter sentence if he’ll “flip” with corroborated testimony about the next-higher player in the conspiracy, who in turn is caught dead-to-rights and offered a lighter sentence in exchange for corroborated testimony about the next guy, and the process continues until eventually the kingpin winds up on trial.
So it seems to be going with special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” which has already secured guilty pleas and corroborated testimony from three people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign and his administration’s former national security advisor, as well as his longtime personal lawyer, and on Thursday The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s longtime personal friend who runs The National Enquirer has been granted full immunity from prosecution to join the witness list.
It’s an effective time honored investigative technique and cinematic plot line, long upheld by judicial precent and cheered by movie audiences, but Trump is now calling it a rigged system. Appearing on the Fox News Network’s “Fox and Friends” program, which should be the safest place for him in the ¬†entire vast media spectrum, Trump wound up almost saying it almost should be illegal.
“I’ve seen it many times,” Trump said. “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called ‘flipping’ and ii almost ¬†should be illegal. You get ten years in jail, but if you make up stuff about people, in other words make up stories, they just make up lies … They make up things and they go from ten years to a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor.”
All of which strikes us as hogwash, and conspicuously desperate hogwash at that. We’re not sure which of of Trump’s friends in the notoriously corrupt New York real estate business he’s seen involved in this stuff, but we assume he’s talking about some of the mobsters who were also represented by past Trump lawyer Roy Cohn, and we note that a number of them were put rightly put in prison after several plea agreements by Trump’s current lawyer and formerly formidable federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. We also note that although a number of lower-ranking figures got off with light sentences in those cases, they always had corroborating evidence to go along with their admittedly dubious testimony that they’re weren’t making things up, and that none of them ever had a statue erected in their honor, and you’d need a very cynical view of the longstanding traditions of the American system of justice and the American way of doing things more generally to argue about the outcomes.
Although it’s only tangentially related to the “Russia thing,” Trump is apparently worried about the “flipped” testimony of his longtime personal lawyer and his longtime friend at The National Enquirer regarding some six-figures payments that were made during the campaign to a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy centerfold model who alleged they’d had sexual encounters with Trump shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Cheating on one’s wife isn’t a crime, and former President Bill Clinton and a few other predecessors have established a precedent that it’s not an impeachable offense, but in this case Trump’s former lawyer has pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws at the president’s request and with the president’s money, and in any case a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy playmate were indisputably givensix-figures hugh-money payments from Trump’s account it’s damned hard for a president to explain to a First Lady.
Longtime Trump lawyer and now=-confessed felon Michael Cohen also figures in the bigger “Russia thing,” as he was the admittedly and under-oath go-to guy for a Moscow skyscraper deal Trump was pursuing even as he promised the Republican primary voters he had no deals whatsoever going on with Russia. So far there’s no telling what he has to say about that, and he’s now a confessed felon, but after the special counsel investigation seized all the tape-recordings and documents and hand-written notes from his home and office and hotel room we expect they’ll have corroborating evidence. So far the public has already heard a leaked audio recording of Trump working out the details of the hush-money payments to the aforementioned porn star and Playboy model with his former lawyer, which Trump had repeatedly lied about having any knowledge of, and we expect that worse is yet to come.
There’s no denying that Trump’s former friends and lawyers and campaign officials and administration appointees are an unsavory bunch, and that their testimony shouldn’t be taken seriously without some convincingly corroborating documentary evidence, but we expect that evidence will be forthcoming, and even in the best-case scenario it looks pretty damned bad for Trump.

— Bud Norman