|JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS|
August 21, 2018 will long be remembered as a spectacularly huge day for truth, justice and the rule of law as the tide finally turned against Donald Trump and, one by one, all of the president's men began to go down.
Michael Cohen, the president's longtime fixer and personal lawyer, entering a guilty plea in a Manhattan courtroom to eight violations of banking, tax and campaign finance laws in which he fingered Trump as working "in coordination" with him to make hush payments to a porn star and Playboy model with whom he had affairs as the 2016 election approached. Then 230 miles away in an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom, the jury in the trial of former campaign manager Paul Manafort returned eight guilty verdicts on fraud charges in dual vindications of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Eight, it seems, was the magic number as it turns out truth is indeed truth, defying the Trump sycophancy's latest meme that "truth isn't truth."
Cohen's guilty pleas are part of a plea deal. That deal does not include a promise to cooperate with investigators against the president or anyone else, but does not preclude him from providing information to Mueller, possibly in return for a reduced sentence.
Although Cohen faces a maximum of 65 years in prison when sentenced on December 12 by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III , the plea agreement provides for a far more lenient sentence ranging from 51 to 63 months, according to prosecutors, and 46 to 57 months, according to the defense.
The description of the hush payments by Cohen, who will be 52 on August 25, portray Trump as scrambling to cover up a sex scandal that might imperil his candidacy, but don't expect Trump to pardon a man who has morphed from being thisclose to him to being a felon-in-waiting whom Rudy Giuliani now calls "the enemy."
"No one knows more . . . of [Trump's] secrets and the fact that he's pleading guilty to a wide range of felonies in many different areas suggest that Trump placed his trust in someone who was a very elaborately — a very extensively credentialed criminal," said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Trump hired Cohen as his attorney in 2006 because he viewed him as a new conduit for money -- much of it laundered -- from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union that had kept Trump's impressively mismanaged business empire from going under in the late 1990s and in subsequent years.
This was because of Cohen's extensive "cash-intensive" business contacts, including taxi medallion businesses in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, as well as clandestine business relationships with gangsters from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries. And because Cohen could help make Trump's "problems" evaporate, whether through legal sleight of hand, lawsuits or outright intimidation.
Cohen and Donald Jr. and Ivanka, Trump's two eldest children, basically ran the Trump Organization while Daddy-O starred in a reality TV show and chased porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, among many other women with impressive bosoms and rounded heels.
One of the two campaign finance law violations was from a $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels. Prosecutors said that Trump Organization executives were involved in reimbursing Cohen for that payment, accepting his phony invoices that listed it as a legal expense. The other violation concerned a complicated arrangement in which The National Enquirer bought the rights to the story about McDougal and Trump and then killed it.
It was Cohen and the kids who did most of the deal making with an astonishing array of bad people from whom other businesses fled in horror. (Okay, perhaps feigned horror.)
Because Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its sleazy global partners and presumably kept records of it all, as well as tapes he secretly recorded of he and Trump conniving and conspiring, they will provide prosecutors with a window into Trump's relationship with Cohen, including his role in arranging the hush with whom Trump continues to insist he never had affairs.
"Guilty, your honor," Cohen said eight times as Judge Pauley read the counts. "I participated in this conduct . . . for the principal purpose of influencing the election," he said of the campaign finance law violations.
But the biggest prize for Mueller, who referred the Cohen case to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and technically is separate from his Russia scandal investigation, may be Cohen's claim that Trump was aware of the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian cut-out to get dirt on Clinton beforehand and green lighted it.
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declared Cohen had put his family and country ahead of his loyalty to Trump.
"He stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election," Davis said. "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?"
Three of the people closest to Trump as he ran for and won the presidency have now pleaded guilty or have been convicted of significant federal crimes: Cohen, Manafort, and Michael Flynn. Don't expect Trump to go anywhere soon, but he will be going.
|ALEXANDRIA (VA.) SHERIFFS OFFICE|
Manafort, who like his former boss believes he is smarter than everyone else, gambled that it was better to take his chances with a jury than to find a strange substance smeared on his door handle one day.
But Manafort wasn't smarter, and so he was found guilty of eight of the 18 fraud counts in the first of his two trials with the judge declaring a mistrial on the 10 others. This still means he probably will spent the rest of his life in prison regardless of the outcome of a second trial on money laundering charges. That is unless he wins on appeal (highly unlikely), becomes a cooperating witness (less likely), or is pardoned by Trump (who knows?).
Manafort found life to be terribly difficult after the collapse of an extravagant three-home lifestyle replete with $15,000 silk-lined ostrich leather bomber jackets and $18,000 karaoke machines built on a career polishing the images of a Who's Who of the most despicable world leaders.
Manafort believed another despicable individual who improbably would become president of the United States with a cyber assist from Vladimir Putin would be his next meal ticket. It worked -- running interference for Putin's cut-outs and all -- until his seamy past was laid bare in the form of a newspaper story embarrassing to the campaign and then indictments courtesy of Mueller.
Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The trial was the first as a result of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but is likely not the last.
Although the trial focused on the 69-year-old Manafort's personal finances, Trump was an unseen presence in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis. The president repeatedly telegraphed his deep concern about the trial in a reprehensible attempt at jury tampering and what it meant for his own sorry ass in a series of revealing Twitter rages harshly critical of Mueller and his prosecutors, whom he called "thugs," while calling Manafort a "good person" and his trial a "sad day."
The jury of six men and six women deliberated over four days, which is not surprising given the complexity of many of the charges, but struggled with and was unable to reach a consensus on 10 counts.
The trial had opened on July 31 and moved along quickly with prosecution and defense presenting closing arguments after 12 days. The prosecution called 27 witnesses in building a powerful case that Manafort hid more than $15 million in political consulting money from the IRS, while the defense called none. Manafort did not testify.
Manafort is the mirror image of Trump.
He too believed he was above the law, was seduced by the oligarch wealth of the former Soviet Union, put profit over principles, and ended up becoming entangled, entrapped, and then a witting tool of Russian interests. If there is a difference, it is Manafort is getting his comeuppance before Trump.
Mueller has indicted 32 individuals, including four Americans, and three Russian companies and organizations. Manafort is alone among those four (the others being Gates, who testified against his former partner in crime; former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign gofer George Papadopoulos) in refusing to cooperate.
This has fueled speculation that the special counsel may need Manafort to flip so he has a witness he can use in court much like he used Gates against Manafort, and that Manafort's refusal to cooperate is a play for a presidential pardon. Everything will become perfectly obvious, as they say, but I'm betting that Mueller will hang Manafort out to dry and Trump's advisers will implore him to hold off on a pardon for the time being.
Manafort, although in dire financial straits in the spring of 2016, had offered to work for the Trump campaign for free. No one seemed puzzled by this, let alone concerned that he had taken at least 14 trips to Moscow in connection with his image-enhancement campaign for a Ukrainian strongman and Putin pal, what was in effect a dress rehearsal for his future role as a probable intermediary between the campaign and Russian cut-outs involved in Putin's cyber-espionage of Hillary Clinton.
He soon was promoted to campaign manager. But that lasted barely four months as The Washington Post broke a story that he had received millions of dollars in off-the-books payments from the strongman's political party. Which prompted the infamous if hilarious rejoinder from Trump when he read the story:
"I've got a crook running my campaign!"
Never has the old adage been truer that it takes a crook to know one.
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