Federal prosecutors submitted filings in three federal court cases involving Trump insiders Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Due to heavy redacting, many specifics are not readily determinable, but the net result is that things appear to be looking bad for the foul occupant of the White House and a number of his sycophants and even family members. Personally I want to see Trump fall and I sincerely hope that collusion/conspiracy with Russia is ultimately documented - in no small part so I can rub it in the faces of Trump supporters who brag about their patriotism and being "real Americans" only to have allowed themselves to be duped by a traitor. A piece in New York Magazine pulls together opinions for a number of commentators and media outlets that look at the situation. Here are highlights:
On Friday, federal prosecutors filed sentencing memos for Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort detailing their cooperation in the investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and alleged campaign finance crimes by members of the Trump campaign. The three briefs — two for Cohen and one for Manafort — don’t just make recommendations about how much prison time the former Trump insiders should get, but point to new details about what prosecutors know and the ramifications to come.
[H]ere is a running roundup of the most insightful commentary and analysis we’ve read on the memos — from experts and pundits who actually understand them:
Intent and TimingJust Security’s Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright zero in on how, if Trump is going to be charged with a felony after leaving office, the smoking gun will need to be evidence of his intent (Rick Hasen makes a similar point at the bottom of this roundup):
[A]fter these filings, Trump faces meaningful criminal exposure upon the end of his term in office. What’s more, the fact that these alleged crimes related to his election to office, they would clear a potential hurdle for impeachment purposes. That is, some impeachment scholars, like Cass Sunstein, take the view that the Impeachment Clause applies only to acts committed in office or in the course of getting elected.
A Turn of the ScrewIf Trump thought the Russia investigation was bad before, he’s really not going to love what comes next, contends former federal prosecutor Ken White at the Atlantic:
Manafort and Cohen are in trouble, and so is Trump. The special counsel’s confidence in his ability to prove Manafort a liar appears justified, which leaves Manafort facing what amounts to a life sentence without any cooperation credit. The Southern District’s brief suggests that Cohen’s dreams of probation are not likely to come true. All three briefs show the special counsel and the Southern District closing in on
PresidentTrump and his administration. They’re looking into campaign contact with Russia, campaign-finance fraud in connection with paying off an adult actress, and participation in lying to Congress. A Democratic House of Representatives, just days away, strains at the leash to help. The game’s afoot.
Trump Tower Moscow and the Kind of Leverage That Can Turn a President Into an Asset
Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen highlight the Trump Tower Moscow angle in a New York Times op-ed:
The special counsel also advanced [Trump's]
the president’spotential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.
If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both [Trump]
the presidentand his company could face substantial jeopardy.
Meanwhile, two Russia experts at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, Max Bergmann and Sam Berger, remind us how all the Trump team’s lies about Russia links would have been plainly obvious — and tempting — to Moscow:
Russia not only knew that Trump was lying, but when investigators first started looking into this deal, the Kremlin helped Trump cover up what really happened. That made Trump doubly compromised: first, because he was eager to get the financial payout and second because Russia had evidence he was lying to the American people — evidence they could have held over Trump by threatening to reveal at any time. . . . there has been open speculation about what leverage the Kremlin has over him. Now we know at least part of the picture, raising the specter of what other information Putin has, and how he is using it to influence Trump’s policy decisions.
White Collaring the Trump Organization?
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Barry Berke (a white-collar criminal defense attorney), Noah Bookbinder (a former federal corruption prosecutor) and Norman Eisen (a Brookings fellow) point out that more shoes may drop on the Trump family’s business — and that Trump could conceivably face charges on January 21, 2021:
The Trump Organization’s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for payments were fraudulently disguised as legal fees — and, according to the memo, were approved by senior executives at the organization. The New York prosecutors also disclosed that they are investigating additional unspecified matters involving Mr. Cohen and, presumably, the Trump Organization. In light of these disclosures, the likelihood that the company and the Trump campaign face charges is now high.
Tip of the Mueller Investigation IcebergDetailing how the Mueller investigation is nearing “the worst case scenario” at Wired, Garrett M. Graff elaborated on several takeaways from the memos, including how key sentences “hint at much more to come — and that the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization, and even the White House likely face serious jeopardy in the continuing investigation”:
As Mueller writes, “Cohen provided the [Southern District of New York] with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.” What precisely those “discrete Russia-related matters” are, we don’t know —yet — but the known behavior of the Trump campaign associates and family members appears damning.
And the truth may have been taped, as “surreptitious recordings made by the Cohen and quoted in the document remind us that it’s possible that prosecutors even have recordings of Trump ordering his fixer to commit a felony”:
Mueller doesn’t say precisely what he has, but the new documents are littered with breadcrumbs — mentions of travel records, testimonial evidence, emails, draft documents, recordings, and more.
Speaking with the Guardian, Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was helped take down mobster John Gotti, also suggested that the current phase of Mueller’s strategy is more midgame than endgame:
We’re in stage two. We’re hearing the indictments and the pleas, people cooperating. Then there’s going to be a stage three, where people who are not cooperating, just — the hammer falls. And I don’t know if it’s going to be Don Jr., or [Jared] Kushner, or who knows. But I think it’s going to happen, and I can’t tell you when. But I think it’s going to happen.
Yo, CollusionIt also seems clear that Russia must have been overjoyed with the success of their meddling, as Garrett M. Graff sums up for Wired:
What intelligence professionals would call [the Kremlin’s] assessment and recruitment phases seems to have unfolded with almost textbook precision, with few stumbling blocks and plenty of encouragement from the Trump side.
Mueller’s court filings, when coupled with other investigative reporting, paint a picture of how the Russian government, through various trusted-but-deniable intermediaries, conducted a series of “approaches” over the course of the spring of 2016 to determine, as [Lawfare’s Benjamin] Wittes says, whether “this is a guy you can do business with.”
The answer, from everyone in Trumpland— from Michael Cohen in January 2016, from George Papadopoulos in spring 2016, from Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016, from Michael Flynn in December 2016 —appears to have been an unequivocal “yes.”