Saturday, March 23, 2019

That Big Test Is Finally Here: The Certain Uncertainties Of A Post-Truth America

POLITICO
This just in: No matter what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded in his final report on the Russia scandal investigation, a large minority of voters won't believe a word of it.  That is pretty much all you really need to know as we lurch into the future of a Post-Truth America in which crap, corruption and chaos are among the very few certain uncertainties while the impeachment of a deeply corrupt and obviously insane president whose approval ratings should be far underwater but have remained steady is a no-brainer but deeply problematic. 
That big test -- you know, the one in which democracy withstands Trump's unprecedented assault on all we hold dear or fails miserably -- is finally at hand.  
The 675-day Russia investigation demonstrated beyond a prosecutorial shadow of a doubt that Trump was desperately seeking to do business in Russia even as he repeatedly claimed he had no dealings there whatsoever, and knowingly surrounded himself with crooks who repeatedly lied to investigators about anything and everything, including over 100 meetings with Russians, many of them cut-outs who were doing Vladimir Putin's bidding. 
Six former associates and advisers to Trump have been indicted or entered guilty pleas, including his 2016 campaign chairman and longtime lawyer-fixer, who will begin prison terms in the coming weeks.  Literally dozens of people associated with Trump's business dealings, campaign and presidency have been tarnished as the enormous breadth and depth of his criminality, which extends well beyond the special counsel's purview, has been laid bare. 
But there were no further indictments -- let alone one with Individual No. 1's name on it -- from Mueller (an important distinction) on top of the staggering 37 already handed up before the Friday evening release of Mueller's final report, and in the final analysis the report may not be the bombshell I and others have anticipated, especially after it is spun to shreds by a punditocracy that has been agonizingly slow to recognize the enormity of the scandal.  Watergate, the Teapot Dome and Soviet theft of atomic bomb secrets are mere also rans when compared to this unprecedented assault on the bedrock of American democracy. 
Trump has proven himself to lack even a single quality of a competent, let alone great, leader, while having shown an uncanny knack for encouraging Russian election interference.   ("Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," he infamously declared mid-campaign in reference to Hillary Clinton's emails, and by gosh by golly the Russians began doing just that a few hours later.) 
But even if Mueller's report has proof that the campaign and Trump himself conspired with Russia to get him elected but could not clear the very high bar to prove criminal conspiracy, it will be seen through the hallucinogenic prism of Post-Truth America by that large minority of followers as a vindication because of the absence of new indictments and further confirmation for the president's congressional sycophancy that the "true" scandal was an attempted deep-state coup d'état engineered by Mueller and the FBI to avenge Hillary Clinton's defeat. 
Never mind that nearly everything Trump has touched for the last decade stinks on ice. 
Beyond multiple Democratic-led House investigations, there are a dozen or so ongoing criminal investigations for a smorgasbord of evil-doing ranging from a family charitable foundation that was his personal piggybank to campaign-finance crimes to cover up hush-money payments to women with whom he had affairs.  The Evangelical so-called Christians in that large minority have forgiven Trump, so why can't we? 
The Mueller report was not going to be a game-changer.  Not in Post-Truth America.  So sorry. 
I will admit to feeling gut-punched like I did the day after Trump was"elected,"  but the rending of garments by libruls over the lack of 11th hour indictments and the ending-with-a-whimper-not-a-bang analogizing are misplaced.  No matter what the report says, it will not be exculpatory and will be a reckoning for Trump.  Mueller may be done, but prosecutors in New York and Washington and some pretty shrewd House committee chairmen are just getting started.   
Yet . . . Yet what all of this may add up to is that there is a possibility the president who ushered in the era of Post-Truth America while lowering the standards of decency to subterranean levels and thumbing his nose at the rule of law while selling out America's interests to its greatest enemy will never see the inside of a prison cell.   
May not even be impeached.   
And even when the full weight of the Russia and other scandals crash down on him -- which they will despite all the certain uncertainties -- he will cut a deal with feckless Democrats allowing him to escape Washington for his gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse with nary a scratch.  Who cares what the history books will say.  Our flag was still there.
In the meantime, that big test will begin as early as Sunday when Attorney General William Barr, to whom Mueller sent his report, briefs congressional leaders on its conclusions and, more importantly to the future of American democracy, will then have to decide whether to publicly release it amidst fevered Democratic calls for transparency in the face of yet another certain uncertainty -- that the White House is locked, loaded and ready to wage an epic battle to forestall the collapse of Trump's presidency.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2018

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Robert Mueller's Final Report May Be Imminent. Prepare To Be . . . Well, We'll See

EMILY SCHERER / FIVETHIRTYEIGHT
It was in the early days of November 2014 when U.S. authorities received an urgent communication from the Dutch intelligence service that it had evidence Russian computer hackers using the persona "Cozy Bear" had wormed their way into the Democratic National Committee's computer system.  The warning was pretty much ignored. 
In what seems like forever since that initial warning -- a four year and four month eternity in which the Kremlin cybersabotaged Hillary Clinton's campaign, greased the skids for a reality TV star and real-estate mogul to become president, and that president has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt -- Special Counsel Robert Muller may soon deliver his breathlessly awaited final report on the greatest scandal in American history.  
It has been nearly two years since Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in a political misjudgment of mind blowing enormity and the shrewd Mueller was appointed to pick up the pieces of Comey's fledgling investigation, which it was later revealed also was a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president of the United States has been working for Russia.
As a result of Mueller's probings, Trump's former campaign manager and longtime consigliere are going to prison, his longest serving political adviser will probably end up there, and his deputy campaign manager and others are cooperating with prosecutors. The investigation has expanded to include Trump's family business, hush-money payments made to women with whom he had affairs, his stillborn Trump Tower Moscow project, his fraught relationship with money laundering-happy Deutschebank, his abjectly corrupt inaugural committee, and the pay-to-play involvement of foreign governments seeking access to his administration. 
Six former associates and advisers to Trump have been indicted or entered guilty pleas and literally dozens of people associated with his business dealings, his campaign and his presidency have been tarnished as the enormous breadth and depth of his criminality has been laid bare.   
Yet some of the biggest names in the scandal, including Trump's own children and son-in-law, all deeply entwined in major threads of the scandal, seem to have been untouched by Mueller's long reach.  And although hinted at, no Trump campaign official has been charged with colluding with Russia. 
What then can we expect from Mueller's final report? 
Much of what the report will contain has been hiding in plain sight in the form of the 37 indictments, many with detailed appendices, and 199 criminal charges involving a rogues gallery of Trump associates and over two dozen Russians brought by Mueller's prosecutors based on grand jury testimony.
Beyond that obvious if overlooked aspect, things get murky. 
The 2000 Justice Department regulation under which the special counsel serves requires him to submit a report to the attorney general "explaining [his] prosecution or declination decisions."  In plain English, this means an explanation as to why he chose not to seek indictments where individuals were investigated -- possibly including the president. 
Do not expect that report to be made public, a decision that is to be made at the discretion of AG William Barr under the Justice regulation.  What Barr is required to do is make his own report to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House judiciary committees -- Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Jerrold Nadler in the House.  
But things are murky here, as well. 
Barr can send a brief report to those committee members and leave it at that.  Or he can provide a more thorough accounting, possibly drafted by Mueller himself, that would offer extensive details of the evidence and perhaps Mueller's assessments of that evidence. 
"It is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work," Barr has said, while adding that " . . . my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."  
In other words, avoid sullying the reputations of people who were not charged, up to and most especially including his boss. 
This is where it is helpful to remember that the Justice Department has more or less concluded, and many legal scholars more or less agree, that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a criminal offense.  Nor should it be expected Mueller would address in his report whether Trump should be indicted after leaving office. 
What has been little remarked on in many of the stories anticipating what Mueller's report will say is the counterintelligence aspect of his mandate. 
Mueller's marching orders state that he is to ascertain "links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."  
But the special counsel also can be expected to assess for the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees -- Richard Burr in the Senate and Adam Schiff in the House -- what threat Russia poses to the U.S. electoral system and what, if any, threat Trump poses to the U.S.
He also can be expected to ascertain whether and to what extent Trump has been compromised by Russia, which would undermine his constitutional duties as president, and this assessment may end up being the most damaging result of his labors. 
What are Trump's financial obligations to Russia?  Why does he avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader orders his agents to poison people on foreign soil? Why has he opposed sanctions against Russia?  Why is he so uninterested in addressing Russian threats to the electoral system? 
Martin Lederman, a law professor and former official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, writes in The Washington Post: 
"The counterintelligence investigation's answers to these and similar questions . . . are of far greater current importance to the functioning of our government than determining whether Trump's deeply inappropriate conduct in 2016-2017 violated any particular criminal statutes." 
Indeed.   
It ostensibly will be at the discretion of Burr and Schiff to assess how much of the information they can share with the rest of Congress and the public.  Typically, little or none of the nitty-gritty of a counterintelligence investigation would be shared because the information is classified and could reveal sensitive sources or methods.   
But this is anything but a typical case, and the public's need to know whether its president is compromised, let alone fit to continue in office, demands public disclosure. And, fingers crossed and prayers said, could be the trigger to begin impeachment proceedings. 
A substantial degree of public disclosure would seem to be probable. 
This is because of the leaky Washington culture, House passage of a non-binding resolution by a 420-0 vote supporting public release of Mueller's final report (Trump poodle Graham blocked a Senate vote) and Schiff 's threat to subpoena Mueller, if necessary. 
But, as you may have anticipated, there is a very big but. 
Trump said earlier last week that " . . . there should be no Mueller report."  But on Saturday, in the wake of the House resolution, he said he has told the Republican congressional leadership "to let all Republicans vote for transparency.  Makes us all look good and doesn’t matter." 
This is why Trump thinks it doesn't matter: His lawyers expect to examine and pick apart what Barr sends to Congress before Congress or the public see anything. 
That would trigger an interminable battle royale in the courts over the report because of the likelihood that those lawyers will claim executive privilege in trying to keep sealed much of the report, or at least stonewall its public dissemination.  Never mind that such a move would further confirm that Trump is still trying to shut down a witch hunt that even he understands -- despite the deepening fog of narcissism and madness enveloping him -- will destroy his presidency.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Of Paula & April: Why Bill Clinton's Zipper Problem Is Haunting Donald Trump

PAULA JONES (LARRY MORRIS / THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Paula Jones seemed guileless and credible, if a little rough around the edges.   
And from the moment she came forward in 1994 to say that Bill Clinton had exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room -- he the governor of Arkansas and Jones a lowly Arkansas state employee -- she was kicked around like a bouffanted political football by the president's allies as a gold digging bimbo and by conservative Republicans in order to politicize the president's zipper problem.   No matter.  Jones's successful lawsuit against Clinton may soon haunt another president whose sexual indiscretions are even better known. 
A New York appeals court ruled 3-2 last Thursday that Trump, like Clinton before him, is not protected by the presidency from having to answer civil charges stemming from misconduct -- improper or illegal actions -- before the he took office.  A criminal charge is another matter as we well know from the heated Russia scandal debate over whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted. 
(Similarly arguing that Trump is not protected by the presidency for previous misconduct, a New York state judge ruled last November that a lawsuit by the state attorney general could proceed against the Donald J. Trump Foundation over misuse of charitable assets, self-dealing and campaign finance violations.  The foundation has since been shut down after disbursing its meager remaining assets.)
The New York appeals court ruled that Trump was compelled to answer a defamation lawsuit brought by April Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice," charging that the future president kissed and groped her without her consent in separate incidents in 2007 -- a job interview in Trump Tower and during a meeting in Los Angeles.  The suit, filed four days before Trump took office, states that he defamed Zervos and damaged her reputation by calling her allegation "yet another hoax."
The Constitution's supremacy clause, which prohibits states from interfering with the federal government's exercise of its powers, does not bar state courts from hearing claims over actions of a president before he took office, the New York appeals court ruled in expanding on the precedent set by Clinton v. Jones.  That unanimous 1997 Supreme Court ruling held that a federal court had jurisdiction over Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton for the Little Rock hotel room incident, but did not address whether the same held true for lawsuits filed in state courts. 
"The supremacy clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state's Constitution," New York Justice Dianne T. Renwick wrote for the majority.  "Read plainly, the supremacy clause confers 'supreme' status on federal laws, not on the status of a federal official." 
After the Supreme Court ruled for Jones, Clinton was questioned under oath by her lawyers and in the process denied that he had ever had a sexual encounter with a certain White House intern.  That, of course, is when his troubles really began.
APRIL ZERVOS (BARRY WILLIAMS / AFP-GETTY IMAGES) 
Bill Clinton's zipper problem has had extraordinary repercussions.   
The Jones encounter eventually would lead to Clinton's impeachment, and while he was a pretty good president, his adultery in the 1980s and early 90s has been gasoline for the fire conservative Republicans have kept burning under he and wife Hillary (that "vast right-wing conspiracy") up to and very much through the 2016 presidential election, where it undeniably was a factor in the unease some voters felt about a woman who defended a lying and cheating husband rather than walking out on him.   
By contrast, Trump's numerous affairs, which far outshadow Bubba's in quantity and duration, have merely been a backstory for a criminal and thoroughly awful president and a piss poor reason for Evangelical voters to forgive him.  You can ask Melania what she thinks about the 10 women who claimed during the campaign that Trump engaged in sexual misconduct, but I wouldn't bother. 
Trump's luck may be about to change if the Zervos lawsuit continues to move forward despite court challenges by Trump's lawyers, who will appeal the New York appeals court decision. 
While Bill Clinton was known to have problems with the truth ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"), Trump is a pathological liar for whom the lines between fact and fiction are hopelessly blurred and whose worst nightmare is having to answer questions at a deposition.  
In one such case in 2007, Trump had admitted he lied some 30 times in previous statements he made regarding a range of subjects from sales at his condominium buildings to the depth of his past debts, and his chronic inability to be truthful is why he avoided a face-to-face interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who would have eaten him alive. 
The irony, of course, is that the harassment and assault claims against Clinton came to be politicized and nearly destroyed his presidency while Trump makes hush-money payments here and blanket denials there and so far has skated. 
At least until now. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Once Again With Great Feeling: Please, Joe Biden, Do Not Run For President

THE WASHINGTON POST
This is at least the fourth time over the years that I have put up a blogpost urging Joe Biden not to run for president.    
My earliest recollections of Joe are from summers at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware where our families vacationed.  I would be lying if I said young Joe seemed destined for politics, let alone greatness. He had little to distinguish himself from the older teenaged crowd that I aspired to be part of beyond having overcome a bad stutter to become a handsome and loquacious babe magnet who happened to have the nicest parents in the world.  
Although it has trended increasingly liberal in recent years, Delaware is perhaps the purplest of states, having once elected a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties.   
But after Joe's first Senate victory by a mere 3,100 votes against a deeply entrenched incumbent Republican in 1972, the year of the Nixon landslide, his popularity soared and he comfortably won five more terms before being tapped by Barack Obama in 2008 to be his running mate.  Without question, Joe was the most influential vice president for good in American history and a tireless advocate of the nearly extinct creature known as bipartisanship, as well.  This by way of differentiating him, as if one needs to, from Dick Cheney, without question the most influential vice president for evil in American history.  
Joe's life has been dogged by tragedy, but he is stronger for it.  
In December 1972, five weeks after his improbable victory, school teacher wife Neilia and their children Beau, 3, Hunter, 2, and Naomi, 1, were crossing an intersection near my boyhood home after doing some Christmas shopping.  Their station wagon was T-boned by a tractor-trailer, killing wife and daughter and critically injuring the boys.  
Beau, the Delaware attorney general, announced candidate for governor, a major in the Judge Advocate General Corps and presumed heir to his father's Senate seat, was a "Fortunate Son," in the words of the Credence Clearwater song.  He could have avoided going to Iraq when called up in 2009, but did not.  
He died in May 2015 after a long struggle with a brain cancer that almost certainly was a result of his exposure to toxic burn pits near where he was bivouacked.   The burn pit story follows an arc tragically familiar to the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam: Denial by the government that there was a problem, refusal by government agencies to address the problem, and finally, in the face of overwhelming evidence, a grudging admission by the government that there was indeed a problem.  
Beau is said to have urged his father to wage one last campaign for the White House in 2016, asserting that America would be better served by his values.   
That death-bed wish could have upended the presidential campaign, and I suggest that the father -- as he again sat at Beau's bedside 43 year after the accident that took the lives of his mother and sister -- was all to aware that the son he had nursed back to health so long ago was leaving this mortal coil because of a runaway war he had foolishly promoted at its outset. 
In October 2015, Joe announced that he would not run.  
"I love Joe Biden," a psychologist friend said after I shared the story of Joe and Beau with her.  "I love Joe Biden for the trajectory of a life in which he has grown and changed and awakened in so many ways.  I love him because he has suffered above and beyond so many."   
As the 2020 race heats up, Joe is again considering one last campaign -- or at least playing the role of Hamlet -- and that is breaking my heart.   
The conventional wisdom about a Biden candidacy goes something like this: He appeals to the white, blue-collar workers who rejected Hillary Clinton in favor of Donald Trump, believes he could have won those voters in 2016, and he thinks he can win them in 2020. 
I love Joe, too, and his appeal to working-class voters is undeniable.  But the time has long passed when we should want to vote for a guy because he would be great to have a beer with.  The Democratic Party desperately needs fresh, forward-looking faces at the top of the ticket, and by golly there is a surfeit of them, a welcomely outsized number of whom are women. 
Joe deserves scrutiny for his abhorrent grilling of Anita Hill in 1991, which greased the skids for Clarence Thomas's lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, and his abominable 1995 crime bill, which led to the disproportionate mass incarceration of African-Americans. 
Then there is this: The Washington Post reported on March 7 that during the 1970s, Joe was opposed to court-ordered busing to correct the gross racial imbalance between substantially black urban schools and mostly white suburban schools in northern Delaware and used rhetoric that would not play well with black and other minority voters. 
Example: "I do not buy the concept, popular in the '60s, which said, 'We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers," Joe told a Delaware-based weekly newspaper in 1975.  "In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.  I don't buy that." 
But Joe is getting a bum rap, at least up to a point.   
Court-ordered busing was a flawed but necessary solution to a racial imbalance that had to be addressed even if it provoked great hostility among many suburban whites.  I also believe that Joe, whom I never would consider to be racist, has grown a great deal over the last 40 years, but his anti-busing rhetoric would haunt him were he to run and efforts to rationalize it during a long and grueling primary season with "that was then and now is now" explanations would fall flat.  
Besides which, Joe couldn't win the nomination when he had a decent shot at it, in his case several shots, so why would he secure the nomination, let alone be competitive, in 2020?  Well, in a crowded field he could win the nomination because of name recognition and a lifetime of old-school party connections.  Just like Hillary did.  
It's not a matter of having the chops, because Joe has them in spades.  Or his age, because he is a vigorous 76.  It's a matter of not rolling back the clock and moving on, and that's what Joe needs to do for the good of country, party and himself.    

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Why Wednesday Was A Rare Good Day & Other Musings On The Russia Scandal

OCCUPY.COM
Wednesday was a rare good day in the Russia scandal.   
A rare good day is not when yet another tentacle in this vast and multifarious outrage with its Dostoevsky-esque cast of deplorables is revealed, something that has occurred with mind-numbing regularity since we first hazarded a glimpse at Russia's vast cyber-operation to deny the presidency to Hillary Clinton at the height of the 2016 campaign and the first hints that the Donald Trump campaign might have aided and abetted in this enormous crime.   
That actually is a bad day because of the probability that nothing will come of the revelation.  That it will get tossed on the slag heap of Too Much Stuff To Keep Track Of. 
If you think of the Russia scandal in terms of a deck of playing cards with Trump as the ace of spades and George Papadopoulos as the two of clubs, then Wednesday was a rare good day.  This is because a pretty important card -- we'll call former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort the king of spades in the spirit of our little exercise -- was taken off the table.   
Wednesday also was a rare good day because Manafort, in addition to being sentenced to 7½ years in a federal slammer, was the target of a 16-count indictment for additional crimes returned by a Manhattan grand jury.  Even if Trump pardons him on the federal raps, he would not be able to pardon him on the state charges if he is found guilty. 
It also was a rare good day because two stories seemingly destined for the slag heap reached critical mass. 
This was news that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker did indeed acknowledge at a closed congressional hearing that he had talked to Trump about the scandal in general and Trump consigliere Michael Cohen in particular after denying that any such thing happened.  And news that Cohen was told before he coped a plea that he could be sure "he had friends in high places" if he stayed loyal to the godfather with the small hands and peculiar hair, which was a presidential pardon dangle for sure.    
Even when we consider other cards taken off the table because of plea agreements -- we'll call Cohen the king of hearts, Mike Flynn the king of diamonds and Rick Gates the jack of spades -- that still leaves 48 cards.  (You didn't ask, but Ivanka Trump is the queen of spades and Roger Stone is a joker.) 
If that isn't sobering in the context of the enormity of the scandal -- Watergate, the Teapot Dome and Soviet theft of atomic bomb secrets are mere also rans when compared to this unprecedented assault on the bedrock of American democracy -- there is the real possibility that a president who sold out America's interests to its greatest enemy will never see the inside of a prison cell, may not be impeached, and even when the full weight of the scandal crashes down on him will cut a deal allowing him to escape Washington for his gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse in the sky with nary a scratch. 
It is encouraging that the day after that rare good day the House passed a resolution by a robust 420-0 vote calling for the release of Special Council Robert Mueller's so-called final report and that a huge majority of Democratic and Republican voters concurred in recent polls.  (There were two other non-binding bipartisan rebukes as the week wound down, resolutions blocking Trump's phony border wall national emergency and ending military aid for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen over the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.) 
But we have a problem, Houston: The view of some Democratic pols that impeaching the ace of spades would tear the country apart because, in the opinion of Trump's crybaby chorus, impeachment is political (!!!) and therefore illegitimate.   
The view of these pols is not just naïve  and shortsighted. They have it exactly backwards. 
Trump already has torn the country apart.  Impeachment, even if it ultimately does not result in conviction after a Senate trial because of the Republican majority, would have profound healing effect for the majority of Americans who have lived in fear since Vladimir Putin coronated the 45th president of the United States while we were looking the other way.  
In any event, Trump keeps making clear that if he goes, it won't be quietly. 
"I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people," he declared, lest the message that he encourages violence be lost.  "But they don’t play it tough -- until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad." 
Yes, the ace of spades is willing to use the police and military, not to mention smelly guys humping Harleys, against his political opposition.  That would not be a rare good day.   

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Manafort Gets His Comeuppance With 7½ Years In Prison, New York Charges

VICTOR J. BLUE / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY
The Russia scandal and its tentacles have been a severe test of America's justice system, and despite the endless efforts of Donald Trump and his henchmen to tip the scales the president's way, it has held up pretty well.  That was not the case when an antediluvian federal judge gave Robert Mueller's prosecutors the finger and Paul Manafort a metaphoric wrist slap of a prison sentence last week, so the sentencing Wednesday of Trump's former campaign manager by a second federal judge on a second even more serious set of charges was highly anticipated and closely watched.  
With the Caesar analogies flying fast and furious, District Judge T.S. Ellis, presiding over his Alexandria, Virginia courtroom as if it was a Roman coliseum, had blithely motored past the 19½ to 24 year sentencing guidelines for the financial crimes for which Manafort was found guilty after an August jury trial in sentencing him to a measly 47 months, with nine months subtracted for time served for witness tampering.    
District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, long praised for patience and fairness and presiding on the other side of the Potomac in the District of Columbia federal courthouse, was constrained to sentence Manafort to no more than 10 years on charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of a plea deal to which he had agreed in September on the eve of his second trial. 
Never mind that Manafort, a once high-flying, ostrich skin coat-wearing uber lobbyist for despots the world over, had gone on to break the agreement in spectacular style. 
Jackson's hands were tied.  Never mind that Manafort continued to lie to the special counsel's prosecutors during more than 50 hours of interviews while one of his lawyers provided backchannel reports to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the scope of the questions prosecutors were asking him to aid in the president's defense.  Jacksons hands were tied.
For those of you keeping score at home, the hands-tied Jackson sentenced Manafort to 43 months -- or about 3½ years -- as with Ellis, less than had been expected, but not egregiously so.   
Although each charge carried a maximum of five years, Jackson noted that one count was closely tied to same bank and tax fraud scheme that Ellis had sentenced Manafort.  Under sentencing guidelines, she said, those punishments should largely overlap, not be piled on top of each other.  
Since Jackson's sentence will run consecutively, that  is after Ellis's considerably lighter-than-expected sentence, this effectively means that Manafort -- who turns 70 on April 1 -- still is looking at 7½ years in prison.  
"It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the amount of money involved,” Jackson said of Manafort, adding that "A significant portion of his career has been spent gaming the system." 
Jackson pushed back on defense attorneys' repeated assertions that Manafort was mere collateral damage in Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  "This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he's also not a victim either," the judge said.  "There's no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing." 
The question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign "conspired or colluded with" the Russian government "was not presented in this case," she added, so for Manafort's attorneys to emphasize that no such collusion was proven is "a non-sequitur." 
The day had an unexpected bonus, breathing new life into the old cliche that timing is everything. 
As Jackson was imposing her sentence, a New York State grand jury returned a 16-count indictment charging Manafort with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy.  If convicted, Trump would not be able to pardon Manafort on the state charges.
Before Jackson imposed sentence, wheelchair-bound Manafort apologized to "all those negatively affected by my actions" and acknowledged that he did not express such regret when sentenced by Ellis.  "I want to say to you now, I am sorry for what I have done and for all of the activities that have gotten us here today." 
Manafort said that nine months in solitary confinement after being jailed for witness tampering gave him "new self-awareness."  
The conspiracy charges stemmed from Manafort's secretive lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and 2016 election campaign contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide and suspected GRU-trained Russian spy that went "very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating," according to prosecutor Andrew Weissman at a February hearing before Jackson.         
Manafort's value as a cooperating witness who could provide prosecutors with an insider's account of links between Trump Tower and the Kremlin was not realized, but his many interactions with Kilimnik, who also has been indicted by Mueller, have been copiously detailed.   
In one of the instances in which prosecutors said Manafort broke his plea agreement, he lied about a meeting with Kilimnik and Rick Gates at an upscale Manhattan cigar bar on August 2, 2016 where he is believed to have shared with Kilimnik detailed campaign polling data to be used by Russian trolls in targeting voters through social media in the ongoing cyberesabotage of Hillary Clinton's campaign.  The men also discussed a so-called Ukrainian "peace plan," which was code for relief of crippling Obama administration-imposed Russia sanctions should Trump be elected.   
Gates, who was Trump's campaign deputy director, is a longtime Manafort associate.  He has been cooperating with prosecutors. 
Trump has been conspicuously silent recently about whether he will pardon Manafort on the federal charges, having variously said previously that he "wouldn't take it off the table" and "I don't even discuss it." 
But a pardon may not be worth the heat Trump would take with Mueller and newly empowered House Democrats bearing down on him through multiple investigations, his domestic and foreign agendas at a standstill, and signs of panic among the Republican faithful as an increasing number of people belatedly wake up to the reality that the president sold out America's interests to its greatest enemy. 
Speaking of the New York State charges, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said "No one is beyond the law in New York," adding that the charges "strike at the heart of New York's sovereign interests, including the integrity of our residential mortgage market."   
Manafort, who along with Gates had been indicted in October 2017, was Mueller's first big catch and highest-profile prosecution.   
His second sentencing effectively closes out one phase of a hydra-headed investigation and will heighten pressure on Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's cautionary words notwithstanding. 
The Mueller investigation still has a number of conspicuous loose ends, notably the possibility of a superseding indictment against dirty trickster Roger Stone, Trump's longest serving adviser, for conspiring with WikiLeaks and Russian trolls.   
Many pundits had declared Mueller's final report to Attorney General William Barr, was going to be out any day for sure.  That was three weeks ago.  The report will indeed be out for sure, but no one outside of the special counsel’s hermetically sealed investigation knows for sure when. 
Jackson gets the last word on Manafort's memorably bad day, having said something simple but profound at his sentencing, "If the people don't have the facts, democracy can't work."

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