This is the part of that epic production known as L'Affaire Russe known as "When the Pigeons Come Home To Roost," and there's going to be a lot of flapping going on in the scandal coop from here on out.
Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and other prosecutors already have notched three sentencings, one conviction at trial, eight guilty pleas and charges against 36 people and business entities with a total of 192 criminal counts as he closes in on "Individual 1," aka the Mansplainer in Chief, and now some of the ancillary investigations -- Mueller's handoffs to other Justice Department prosecutors -- are bearing fruit.
Today we're talking about a very big player -- Michael Cohen -- and a bit player -- Mariia Butina -- in this ratings smashing real-time tragedy starring a King Lear-like character without the chops of Shakespeare's Celtic madman.
And who, as Charles Pierce notes, "Has no friends anymore, only witnesses."
COHEN IN THE WIND
The big question is what kind of tears fell from the disgraced Michael Cohen's eyes on Wednesday in the Manhattan courtroom of U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III as Trump's disgraced longtime personal lawyer and fixer was sentenced to a generous three years in prison after implicating his former boss in felonious hush money payments during the 2016 campaign.
Close followers of L'Affaire Russe want to know: Considering Cohen's long history of threats of violence, intimidation and payoffs, were they crocodile tears of a unrepentant hustler or the real tears of a man who has come to terms with a career of harming others in the service of a thug and is seeking redemption?
I have my doubts about Cohen's sincerity, but there he was apologizing for covering up what he called Trump's "dirty deeds" in ostensibly taking responsibility for crimes that included tax violations, lying to a bank, and buying the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, who had affairs with Trump in the months after wife Melania gave birth to son Barron.
"My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump . . . I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today . . . that led me to choose a path of darkness over light," Cohen, standing at a podium in a charcoal suit and light blue tie,
told the packed courtroom.
Pauley's sentence, which includes a $2 million fine for a multi-millionaire who never made an honest dollar, falls about a year below the range recommended by prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Mueller, with whom Cohen has been cooperating, had recommended leniency and that whatever sentence Cohen received for pleading guilty to lying to Congress run concurrently with the other sentence. Pauley sentenced Cohen to two months on the lying rap, to be served concurrently.
Pauley described Cohen's misdeeds a "veritable smorgasbord" of crimes.
"Our democratic institutions depend upon the honesty of our citizenry in dealing with the government," the judge said. "While Mr. Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean."
Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, had urged Pauley to be lenient in light of what he called Cohen's courage and "the remarkable nature and significance" of his decision to cooperate against Trump. "He knew that the president might shut down the investigation . . . He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country. He did so not knowing what the result would be, not knowing how the politics would play out," or whether Mueller's investigation "would even survive."
Jeannie Rhee, part of Mueller's prosecution team, told Pauley that Cohen "has endeavored to account for his criminal conduct in numerous ways."
While not getting into specifics, Rhee said Cohen was providing "credible and reliable information about core Russia-related issues under investigation. . . . Mr. Cohen has sought to tell us the truth, and that is of utmost value to us."
Separately but significantly, word came following Cohen's sentencing that Trump's favorite sleazy tabloid also had flipped on him.
SDNY prosecutors announced that they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the company that publishes the National Enquirer, for its role in catching and killing stories of women who said they had relationships with Trump. AMI had paid $150,000 to McDougal before the election.
As part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made that payment and others "in concert" with Trump's campaign to "suppress the women's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."
The sentences capped a precipitous fall for the 52-year-old Cohen, who had once hoped to work by Trump's side in the White House but was discarded when his role in the hush money payments became known.
Their relationship began in 2006 when Trump learned that Cohen and his extended family were buying up units in his Manhattan luxury properties, eventually over $17 million in all, and recruited him for the Trump Organization because of his expertise as a conduit for money from countries of the former Soviet Union.
As Trump's lawyer and fixer, Cohen helped connect Russians to Trump's 2016 campaign.
Cohen told Congress that the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in January 2016 when in fact planning continued into June and involved the highest levels of the Putin government. A plan for Trump to fly to Moscow after securing the Republican nomination and gift Putin a $50 million penthouse atop the tower, which would include an Ivanka Trump-branded spa, was scotched after The Washington Post broke the first story that Russian hackers were stealing Democratic emails.
Trump made no public comment on Cohen's sentencing, but privately spoke three words, according to aides:
"He's a liar."
PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA
Mariia Butina, pardon the awful pun, trips a lot of triggers.
The Siberian-born gun-rights activist, an oxymoron if there ever was one since gun owners in Russia have no rights, made her debut as a bit player in L'Affaire Russe way back in 2013, five adventure-filled years before her arrest in July in Washington, D.C. as she was literally packing her bags to skip town.
It was in 2013 that she first cozied up to Republican operative Paul Erickson, a former American Conservative Union board member and associate of David Keene, then president of America's largest and most powerful terrorist organization, the National Rifle Association. (Don't get me wrong. The NRA was perfectly fine when its mission was teaching gun safety, but as it grew more wealthy and powerful, its mission became making it perfectly legal for nuts with mass murder in their hearts to buy combat-grade automatic weapons designed to inflict maximum carnage. At that it has been catastrophically successful.)
Anyhow, Butina was and is a protégé of Alexandr Torshin, once a member of the Russian parliament and later a chief deputy of its central bank and himself a protégé of Vladimir Putin. Torshin had been visiting heartland cities in the U.S. regularly since 2009 in a clandestine effort to advance Moscow's long-term objectives by establishing common political interests with American conservatives, including gun lovers.
That act apparently was getting a little stale, so in 2014 Butina kind of took over for Torshin and began "dating" Erickson. Then in 2016, he became her sugar daddy when he set up an LLC that he claimed was for Butina's tuition at American University in Washington.
In February 2016, Torshin tweeted that Butina was now in the U.S. and said "She writes me that D. Trump (NRA member) is ready for cooperation with Russia."
When not hitting the books, Butina squeezed in a meeting with Dana Rohrabacher, the slavishly pro-Putin U.S. representative from California, and initiated a series of contacts with J.D. Gordon, who was the Trump campaign's director of national security and then a big wheel in Trump's transition team. This included taking him to a Styx concert.
On the morning after Trump's surprise victory, Butina contacted Torshin, saying "I'm going to sleep. It's 3 am here. I am ready for further orders." It is not known if those orders included Butina throwing a costume party for her birthday a week later at trendy Cafe Deluxe in Washington where she dressed as Empress Alexandra while Erickson came as Rasputin. She bragged to partygoers that she had been "part of the Trump campaign's communications with Russia." (You really can't make this stuff up.)
At this point, Butina might as well begin wearing a tiara with the words "Russian agent" in flashing neon lights, and indeed agents for the Justice Department's national security office, working with the U.S. Attorney's office for Washington, were now wise to her and monitoring her contacts with visiting Russians with dodgy backgrounds, as well as her ongoing romance with Erickson.
In the end, Butina's act as Natashia to Torshin's Boris turns out to have been as hapless as those wonderful animated characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Butina was arrested on July 15 as she prepared to head home. Held without bail in a federal lockup around the corner from the White House, she entered a guilty plea on Thursday and became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election. In doing so, Butina admitted she and "U.S. Person 1" (Erickson) "agreed and conspired, with a senior Russian government official" (Torshin) to act as a Russian agent.
The 30-year-old Butina's plea deal includes blabbing about the NRA's reported but as yet unproven role as a conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign, which directly and indirectly received over $30 million from the gun group and may have illegally coordinated campaign ad buys with it, in return for the possibility of less prison time.
I continue to be mindblown at the extraordinary number of crooks and grifters Trump has sucked into his orbit whose moral compasses are badly broken. One by one, they're finally going down. If there is a God, that also will include the people who turned the NRA into a killing machine.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.