Two former senior Trump campaign staffers pled not guilty yesterday to evading taxes on millions of dollars over a period of years and a litany of other charges sought by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III that appear wholly unrelated to the alleged Russian intervention in last year’s election that he was commissioned to investigate.
It was a busy day in the nation’s capital yesterday.
Paul J. Manafort Jr. and Richard W. Gates III were arraigned in federal court in Washington, D.C., and released on a $10 million bond and a $5 million bond, respectively. The defendants are not allowed to leave their homes except under narrowly defined circumstances.
Trump defenders have long said Mueller has too many serious conflicts of interest to be leading the probe of the electoral collusion fairy tale and that the president should fire him.
At 10:25 a.m. Monday, President Trump tweeted his disgust at the indictments, which in his view are aimed at the wrong people. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Minutes later he tweeted, “there is NO COLLUSION!”
Recent news reports indicate at least one Democrat, “power lobbyist” Tony Podesta, has been under Mueller’s microscope. Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, abruptly resigned yesterday from the Podesta Group.
“Podesta announced his decision during a firm-wide meeting Monday morning and is alerting clients of his impending departure,” according to Politico. The Podesta Group partnered with Manafort on a public relations campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.
Mueller has been investigating Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group, NBC News reported last week. The probe has “morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
As Breitbart News reports,
The Podesta Group has also lobbied for Uranium One, the Canadian-based energy company that has come under scrutiny as well. In 2010, the Obama administration allowed Uranium One to be sold to Russian energy company Rosatom, giving the company control over one-fifth of American uranium-mining capacity to Russia, despite an ongoing FBI investigation into a Rosatom subsidiary involved in a racketeering scheme. The Podesta Group received $180,000 from Uranium One over several years between 2012 and 2015, according to records at opensecrets.org.
Hillary Clinton infamously approved the Uranium One transaction when she was secretary of state and her husband received the suspiciously large sum of $500,000 for a single speech from Russian sources.
Commentator Sean Davis, co-founder of the Federalist website, reminded us on Twitter last week who the real villains are. “The Mueller probe is based entirely on two things: a dossier created by Dem[ocrat] collusion [with] Russia, and illegal leaks by [former FBI Director] James Comey.”
“Democrats and Comey didn't just allow Russia to interfere with our elections. They let shady Russian operatives pervert our justice system,” he added.
Returning to Manafort, he managed the Trump campaign from June to August 2016, until his foreign business dealings, hyped relentlessly by the mainstream media, led to his firing. He was replaced by Kellyanne Conway and Bannon. Gates is a protégé of Manafort who served as his deputy in the campaign and partner in various business enterprises.
Mueller is already the textbook definition of an out-of-control independent prosecutor and these charges may be part of a legal stratagem to strong-arm the two men into cooperating as witnesses. In other words, the charges could be bogus or blown out of proportion, calculated to give the prosecutor leverage over the two defendants.
“The Paul Manafort indictment is much ado about nothing,” former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy writes at NRO, “except as a vehicle to squeeze Manafort, which is special counsel Robert Mueller’s objective — as we have been arguing for three months[.]”
Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz told “Fox and Friends” Monday morning that the indictment of Manafort was strategic.
“They’re going after Manafort for something that apparently has nothing to do with Trump—years ago, his own business,” Dershowitz said. He added,” But what they’re saying to him is ‘We gotcha now and we don’t care about that but if you can tell us something about Trump and the campaign and collusion, we’ll give you a get-out-of-jail card free.’”
“So it’s all about leverage. That’s the way that prosecutors work.”
Dershowitz continued, “Manafort knows where the bodies are buried … and if anything happened wrong in the campaign, and there’s no evidence that anything did, Manafort would know about it. Even if he wasn’t directly there he’d of heard about it.”
Manafort and Gates stand accused of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, serving as unregistered agents of a foreign principal, and making false statements including false and misleading FARA-related (Foreign Agents Registration Act) statements.
The indictment approved by a Washington, D.C., grand jury seeks forfeiture of the assets of both men that are said to be connected to the offenses. It specifically targets Manafort's life insurance policy, as well as his real estate holdings in New York City and Water Mill, New York, as well as in Arlington, Virginia. The indictment fails to identify any property belonging to Gates.
According to the 31-page indictment:
Between at least 2006 and 2015, MANAFORT and GATES acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was President from 2010 to 2014), Yanukovych, and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions that formed in 2014 when Yanukovych fled to Russia). MANAFORT and GATES generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work. In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT and GATES laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.
The money was allegedly funneled through businesses and bank accounts in various foreign countries including Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Seychelles.
The indictment also states that when the Department of Justice inquired about their activities in 2016, the two defendants "responded with a series of false and misleading statements."
"Between in or around 2008 and 2017 ... MANAFORT and GATES devised and intended to devise, and executed and attempted to execute, a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses,
representations, and promises from the United States, banks, and other financial institutions. As part of the scheme, MANAFORT and GATES repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants, and legal counsel, among others."
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni pushed back against the charges.
Today you see an indictment brought by the Office of Special Counsel that is using a very novel theory to prosecute Mr. Manafort regarding a FARA filing. The United States government has only used that offense six times since 1966 and [that] only resulted in one conviction.
The second thing about this indictment that I, myself, find most ridiculous is a claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States, as a scheme to conceal from the United States government, is ridiculous.
Complicating matters for the White House, it was revealed yesterday that George Papadopoulos, formerly a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, entered a guilty plea earlier this month to making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russian nationals during the 2016 election cycle. Papadopoulos acknowledged in a statement that he tried to arrange a foreign policy trip for the campaign to Russia but the excursion never happened. He also stated that a London-based professor of diplomacy who boasted of “substantial connections to Russian government officials,” informed him that the Russian government had “dirt” and “thousands of emails” from Hillary Clinton.
Manafort and Gates are scheduled to appear Thursday before Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Jackson was nominated to the bench by President Obama and assumed her judicial office in 2011. A Harvard Law graduate, she donated $1,000 to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.
Earlier this year, the judge threw out a lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by relatives of victims of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton’s “actions – communicating with other State Department personnel and advisers about the official business of the department – fall squarely within the scope of her duty to run the Department and conduct the foreign affairs of the nation as Secretary of State,” Jackson ruled.
It was only recently that Americans learned that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid Fusion GPS to create the explosive, far-fetched dossier that attempted to smear President Trump by falsely linking him to Russia. The character-assassination file is the unvetted, salacious, 35-page report written by British former spy Christopher Steele and published by cat-video and gossip website BuzzFeed. The dossier claimed, among other things, that Trump hired prostitutes to urinate in Moscow in front of him. Some of the information in the dossier is said to have come directly from the Kremlin.
The dossier was just one of many dirty tricks Hillary Clinton’s campaign used in an effort to undermine her opponent’s campaign during the 2016 election cycle. Clinton also personally authorized the illicit efforts of felon Bob Creamer and organizer Scott Foval who fomented violence at Trump campaign rallies, as James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group revealed in undercover videos.
Of course no one in Washington expects Hillary to ever darken a prison cell.
Meanwhile, Trump lawyer Ty Cobb told reporters the president will let the legal system run its course.
“Nothing about today’s events alters anything related to our engagement with the special counsel, with whom we continue to cooperate,” Cobb said. “There are no discussions and there is no consideration being given to terminating Mueller.”
Asked whether the president is thinking about pardoning Manafort or Gates, Cobb said, “No, no, no. That’s never come up and won’t come up.”
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon reportedly thinks President Trump is getting bad advice from his attorneys. He is said to have called the president yesterday to urge him to replace his legal team.
“In terms of Steve’s thinking of how the president is handling this, yeah, he thinks the legal team was not prepared for what happened today—they’re not serving the president well,” said a source said to be close to Bannon. Another source said Bannon regards Cobb and John Dowd, Trump’s two top lawyers, as “asleep at the wheel.”
Bannon may have a point.