Several developments in the framework of the Russian case headed by Special counsel Robert Mueller happened on August 21st.
Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman was convicted on eight felony charges after a trial on charges of bank and tax fraud brought by Mueller. He was indicted on 18 trials in total, however the federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia declared mistrial on the remaining 10. Despite the mistrials Paul Manafort still faces the possibility of life in prison.
Five of the guilty verdicts were for filing false tax documents, and the other three involved bank fraud and foreign bank account registration.
The mistrials were a result of the jurors who couldn’t decide on three counts of failure to file reports on foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud.
The guilty verdicts do not implicate the US President, however, as Politico reported they could assist in protecting Robert Mueller’s Russian Investigation from Trump’s charges of a “witch hunt.” After the ruling on August 21st, Donald Trump spoke to reporters in West Virginia. “It’s a witch hunt and it’s a disgrace. I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.”
On the same day, a short while before Manafort’s ruling, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, implicated the US President in hush money payments. He said that the money was designed to sway the election. His admission of guilt was part of a plea deal with the federal prosecutors on fraud charges.
“I participated in the conduct for the purposes of influencing the election” Cohen said about his payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in the past. Trump denies the claims.
He spoke as he was formally entering his plea at a Manhattan federal court, there he admitted guilt to eight tax evasion, financial fraud and campaign finance charges.
This is potentially the most politically and legally damaging development of the Special counsel’s investigation to date. Trump previously denied all knowledge of any such payments.
Cohen said one payment, for $150,000, was made during “summer of 2016, in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” The second payment, for $130,000, was made around “October of 2016, at the direction of the same candidate.”
“This isn’t a terrible day for President Trump, it’s the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for him,” said former Assistant Attorney General David Kris, who worked for the Justice Department under four Democratic and Republican presidents, cited by Politico. However, Kris also mentioned that in both cases there is no word of collusion of any sort.
Also, on the same day, a federal grand jury indicted California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife on charges of improperly using hundreds of thousands of campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including family vacations and dental work.
Hunter is also accused of filing false campaign reports and wire fraud. According to Politico, the late-August indictment is a huge problem for the Republicans as he cannot be replaced before August 31st on the ballet for elections in November.
“By virtue of these delinquencies – as well as notifications of outstanding debts and overdue payments from their children’s school, their family dentist, and other creditors – the HUNTERS knew that many of their desired purchases could only be made by using Campaign funds,” the indictment alleges. “The goal of the conspiracy was for DUNCAN HUNTER and MARGARET HUNTER to enrich themselves, and others at their direction, by converting Campaign funds for their own personal benefit and enjoyment, and for the personal benefit of others with whom the HUNTERS had personal relationships.”
Hunter’s attorney, Gregory Vega, claims the prosecution of his client is politically motivated. He has sent letters to the Justice Department complaining that two of the federal prosecutors involved in the Hunter case attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in August 2015.
Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Tuesday that Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments pending a resolution to the criminal case.
The two convictions and the indictment come as hit to Trump and his aides. They were quick to respond to the guilty verdict of Paul Manafort, saying that it had nothing to do with collusion and nothing to do with Trump. However, Cohen’s verdict admitted to paying hush money before the 2016 election at Trump’s direction. No word of Russian collusion was mentioned there. The indictment of Duncan Hunter is also completely unrelated to Russian election meddling.
Robert Mueller has been pursuing legal action against Trump associates since the probe of the Special counsel began. So far, he had indicted Paul Manafort who was found guilty as well as former campaign aides Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn who all pleaded guilty in the probe.
The rulings are damaging to Trump, especially Cohen’s guilty plea and they will weaken his and the Republicans’ positions leading up to the mid-term elections in November. However, the Russian probe still fails to provide any connections with Russia. It has so far been a way for pressure Trump campaign members and allies, despite the campaign was launched for the investigation of an alleged Russian meddling. The rulings so far have all been in relation to economic crimes and corruption, which are common for most elite and lobbyists, not just the US ones.
Despite the fact that it is apparent that the Russian probe follows the agenda of Trump’s opponents, it will not stop. However, it is starting to become more and more evident that the Russian meddling narrative is just a justification to allow for its propagation.