For months, Donald Trump has been gloating through his big mouth. Special Counsel Robert Mueller couldn’t find any evidence linking Trump to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Well, the U.S. president should have had kept his big mouth shut simply because he can’t be 100% sure that his boys are really innocent.
It’s called “plausible deniability”. It simply means the president will be as innocent as a lamb as long as he has no knowledge for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm the president’s participation. There’re two ways to keep the president out of the circle.
First, hints or suggestions could be dropped on the table and Donald Trump could say “I don’t want to know about it” and walk away, but didn’t ask his advisers or strategists to stop. Second, his band of advisers or strategists made a decision that in the best interest of their boss, they would proceed to execute something unethical and even illegal behind Trump’s back.
Today, that stacks of cards have started falling. And President Donald Trump is incredibly mad and furious. Only his battalions of aides separated him from going bonkers and take actions – including sacking – the special counsel on the spot using his favourite tool – Twitter. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has not only been charged but also placed on house arrest.
Mr. Manafort together with his long-time associate Rick Gates is being slapped with charges of money laundering and foreign lobbying contracts. Ironically, Trump had met with the world’s biggest crook – Najib Razak – recently, despite the fact that the Malaysian prime minister is still under U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation for the identical issue – money laundering.
Calling both defendants a flight risk because of their connections to foreign governments, a federal judge also required that Manafort and Gates surrender their passports. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates posted US$10 million and US$5 million respectively. Manafort and Gates are both due back in court on Thursday, before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
Manafort and Gates stand accused of conspiring to conceal tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed payments for lobbying work they performed on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. The bulk of this lobbying work occurred between 2012 and 2014, two years before Manafort joined the Trump campaign.
As expected, Trump immediately took to the Twitter and asked – “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?????” While it’s true that Manafort and Gates committed the money laundering 2 years before they joined his team, there’s something that Trump has gotten it wrong.
What President Trump isn’t absolutely sure is whether both Manafort and Gates committed similar illegal activities while running his campaign. Trump could have been kept in the dark, or chose to be kept in the dark, to enjoy the “plausible deniability” privilege. Until today, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had no proof.
Mueller’s move to charge Trump’s men could be seen as ridiculous. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. But the indictments of Trump’s two former aides could be just red herring, the appetizer to lure the bigger fish, or the main course. It could be Mueller’s brilliant strategic move ever.
The most significant piece of news, which many have missed, is the guilty plea of former Trump campaign advisor – George Papadopoulos – who was arrested in July and entered a guilty plea about 3 weeks ago. It’s not a coincidence that Mueller deliberately chose to unseal the charges against Manafort and Gates together with Papadopoulos’s guilty plea on the same day.
Apparently, Mr. Papadopoulos had initially lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russian operatives (known as “The Professor” Joseph Mifsud) regarding “dirt” on Trump’s general election opponent. Court papers also revealed that a Trump campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos to make a trip to Russia for an off-the-record meeting with Russian official.
Trump can change the subject by asking why Crooked Hillary isn’t investigated, let alone charged. But Mueller was appointed to investigate Trump campaign, not Hillary campaign. Trump can scream until foaming at the mouth, but he’s in deep shit with Mr. Papadopoulos’ guilty plea. So, the U.S. president should worry more about Papadopoulos than Manafort and Gates.
The reason why indictment against Manafort and Gates were unsealed on the same day Papadopoulos’ guilty plea was revealed is to encourage Manafort to cooperate in the investigation. Mr. Manafort might think there’s nothing the special counsel could do as long as he kept his mouth shut. But with Papadopoulos in the picture, Manafort might have a second thought.
This is how some TV drama could be played. Manafort is being slapped with 12-count indictment by the Department of Justice. So he might be offered sexy deal – most likely reduced sentence – if he cooperates and spills the beans, if indeed Trump campaign was tainted with Russian from the beginning.
Mueller seems to be sending a message that co-operators get deals, and that Manafort faces additional potential criminal exposure, if he doesn’t play balls. Already, Mueller’s office listed more than 200 transactions involving payments from shell companies and offshore accounts in Cyprus and the Grenadines to unnamed vendors in New York, Virginia, South Carolina, California and Florida.
Manafort also allegedly used offshore accounts to buy real estate, including US$2.85 million for a New York City condo in Soho and a Brooklyn brownstone that cost US$3 million. He also spent US$934,350 at an antique rug store in Alexandria and $849,215 at a men’s clothing store in New York, not to mention payments of US$163,705 for three Range Rovers and a US$62,750 Mercedes Benz.
To get the game more interesting, unsealed documents also reveals four namesof Trump campaign officials – “Campaign Supervisor,” two “High-Ranking Campaign Officials,” and a “Senior Policy Advisor.” Assuming Manafort is one of these 4 individuals, it means 3 others could be cooperating with Mueller’s team in order to escape charges.
Therefore, Manafort may want to beat them to the table. It could be a trap, a trick or even a treat to Manafort. But the choice isn’t hard. The pair of Manafort and Gates could serve up to 40 years in prison, if they choose to fight the charges – and lose. They could also lose most of their assets, as several of the charges require property forfeiture if they are found guilty.
The money laundering alone carries a maximum 20 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit offense or defraud the United States carries a maximum sentence of up to five years, as does the violation of a statute related to record and reports on foreign agency transactions. Cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, on the other hand, can win Manafort and Gates leniency.