span style="font-size:18px">Stripped of one of his tailored suites and dispatched to a jail cell by a federal judge for violating bail by asking witnesses via eccrypted messages to lie for him in court, will former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort finally flip and become the cooperating witness special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has groomed him to become? Or will Manafort fight to the last legal motion the swelling charges of money laundering, bank fraud, serving as an unregistered foreign agent and obstruction of justice brought against him? Or will he play the role of political martyr in hopes of a pardon from the suddenly pardon-minded president?
Place your money on pardon. Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani didn’t even bother to encrypt his offer of a get-out-of-jail-free card for Manafort on Friday as he spoke to the New York Daily News about his jailing. “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” Giuliani said. “I don’t understand the justification for putting him in jail.”
“It’s going to be interpreted as a message to Manafort not to panic,” Nicholas Gravante, a New York criminal defense lawyer, told the Daily News. “This can come off as Rudy telling Manafort, ‘If push comes to shove here, you’re going to get pardoned, so keep your mouth shut.’”
Giuliani’s sense of “when the whole thing” should be over isn’t the same as yours. Instead of permitting Mueller to complete his investigation of Russian meddling, Giuliani wants the probe suspended. Speaking on Sean Hannity’s show Thursday evening, Giuliani said Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could “redeem themselves” by doing so immediately. Hefting a copy of the Inspector General’s report on FBI conduct during the campaign on TV, Giuliani left no doubt about whom he considers to be worthy of jail time instead of Manafort: Peter Strzok, the FBI agent assigned to investigate the Clinton emails and who expressed his Trump-hating in messages sent to a lover-colleague during the campaign. Said Giuliani, “Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.”
Trump is playing the IG report as a victory that “totally exonarates” him. This is more than loopy. While the IG found fault with James Comey’s conduct in conducting the Clinton email investigation, it says nothing about Russian meddling or obstruction of justice. Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Friday, Trump did his best to cast Manafort as somebody who was less important to him than the summer help at one of his golf courses. “He worked for me, what, 49 days or something. Very short period of time.” Actually, Manafort worked for the Trump campaign for 144 days, according to NBC News. And how important was he to the campaign? In August 2017, Trump acolyte Newt Gingrich told Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now.” In May 2018, former Trump campaign Michael Caputo credited Manafort with securing Trump’s win at the Republican National Convention. “If it weren't for Paul Manafort, that convention would have been hairy,” he said on CNN. “And I think the president…stood a chance of actually getting brokered right out of it and Paul took charge of it. You know, basically put a rope around it during the committee week.”
By running his mouth almighty, Giuliani appears to be foretelling Trump’s ultimate plans of pardoning his way out of legal trouble while simultaneously decapitating the special counsel’s investigation with a few well-chosen firings. But if this is the Trump plan, what is he waiting for? Does it make sense to allow his attorney talk so loudly about it? The problem with gaming out a rational Trump strategy is that Trump remains wedded to acting on impulse. Upon arriving in Singapore earlier this week, our impatient president inserted unneeded drama into the summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un when, as the Washington Post reports, he wanted the session with Kim moved up a day. “We’re here now,” Trump said. “Why can’t we just do it?” Aides talked him out of this one.
Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, had such a bad week he probably wishes he had a jail cell to call his own. According to long take-outs in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal , Cohen whose loyalty to Trump is the stuff of legend, feels neglected and abandoned by his former client. Now the target of two federal investigations, one headed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan centered on bank fraud, campaign finance violations and illegal lobbying , and another in Mueller’s office related to the Russian probe, Cohen squealed for help this week by dropping his defense team and seeking a new one. This lawyer shopping, and signals that Manhattan prosecutors are readying charges against him, have stimulated chatter that Cohen just might flip on Trump. Watching Manafort trundle off to jail can’t have been good for his morale—or his Trump loyalty.
The Journal piece about Cohen’s deteriorating relationship with Trump sketches the self-styled fixer as a blustering oaf. In 2009, Trump tried to force Cohen out of the Trump Organization, but he resisted, accepting instead a 50-percent cut in his salary. Trump became skeptical of Cohen’s legal skills over time, asking other attorneys to double-check his work and reassigning Cohen-led projects to other attorneys. Cohen’s great failure included a botched attempt at building a Trump tower in Moscow and keeping a lid on Stormy Daniels’ allegations of her affair with Trump. “What’s he doing here?” Trump asked his other aides of Cohen when plotting to exile him. Even Fredo got more respect in Godfather II.
Trump’s legal wars opened on a new front at the end of the week as New York’s attorney general filed a civil case against him and three of his children for misusing his personal charity to pay creditors, decorate his properties, and give money away at campaign events. Inspired by the importunate investigations of Washington Postie David A. Fahrenthold during the campaign, the suit asked a state judge to shred the Trump Foundation and force him to pay $2.8 million in restitution and penalties, distribute its existing $1 million in assets to other charities, and ban him from leading any New York nonprofit for 10 years. Attorney General Barbara Underwood also alerted the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission to possible legal violations by Trump’s foundation.
“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” Underwood said in a statement. On Twitter, Trump called the suit a product of “sleazy New York Democrats.”
At the end of a week that started with Trump bro-ing it up with a North Korean dictator, the president began to fantasize about some face time with Vladimir Putin. But the conversation about Russia that everyone wants Trump to have is with Mueller. Anybody have a good idea for a neutral site for the parlay? (Courtesy: Politico magazine)