The August 21, conviction of Paul Manafort and the simultaneous guilty plea of Michael Cohen deserve some sorting out as the Mueller investigation grinds endlessly on and, at least for the moment, they seem to represent the beginning of the end. Two questions arise:
1. What are the new learnings from these two cases, after a year of breathless Washington Post headlines about smoking guns?
- The Cohen case provides clarity for those in denial that Trump made blackmail payments to two bimbos with whom he had affairs shortly after the time of his son Barron's birth. The Stormy Daniels payment came through Cohen, probably at Trump's request; the McDougal payment came through the the National Enquirer, and apparently originated with the Trump Organization.
- Cohen had a problem with taxi licenses going back several years. Manafort had a problem with tax avoidance on fees from lobbying on behalf of pro-Russia Ukranian politicians several years ago. Neither had anything to do with Trump, much less collusion between the Trump campaign and any Russians. Rather, Mueller used their offenses to squeeze out incriminating evidence on Trump - but none (except for the bimbo payments) was presented in either case.
- Lanny Davis, Cohen's lawyer who had a long relationship with the Clinton machine, falsely claimed - as an anonymous CNN source, and later directly - that he knew from Cohen that Trump had prior knowledge of the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. (E-mails released by Donald Junior shortly after the meeting revealed that Veselnitskaya had promised dirt on Hillary, but none was offered and her real purpose was to lobby on behalf of adoption policies. President Trump had denied knowing of the meeting in advance.) Davis also lied when he claimed that Trump was involved in the Russian theft of Democratic National committee e-mails. Even the Washington Post criticized Davis and CNN for the falsehoods and shoddy reporting, but to the extent that public attitudes were affected, "fake news" placed another brick in the anti-Trump wall.
2. What might come next?
- Mueller's team and the Democratic New York attorney general will examine the mechanics of the bimbo payments, interviewing National Enquirer executives and the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. Since Cohen pled guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution there will be an attempt to hang Trump on a similar charge; however, Trump's team will argue that he was just spending his own money to protect his wife and son from embarrasment. The option of Trump volunteering to testify under oath is in the rear view mirror, as the possibility of mis-speaking and being charged with perjury is obvious.
- Within a week or two Mueller needs to conclude or pause his investigation, lest he be guilty of Comey's sin of appearing to influence elections. All of the apparent avenues of inquiry have been exhausted, except for the role of Hillary's campaign in the Russia-related Steele dossier, and the anti-Trump behavior of the FBI leadership before and after the election - but there is no evidence that Mueller will go there. Mueller can claim vindication in indicting or getting guilty pleas from two batches of Russians for election interference, identity theft, and money laundering; Manafort for unregistered lobbying and tax evasion; Cohen for improper use of taxi medallions and illegal bimbo payments; Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI; and a few assorted lawyers and hangers on for helping Manafort and the Russians. That Mueller hasn't found a whiff of Russian collusion or obstruction of justice on the part of the Trump team will be a disappointment to many.
CBS kept As the World Turns on air for 54 years, proving that there is a market for soap operas. Fifteen months is enough for Mueller v Trump. The overhang on the Trump presidency has been significant, but the Energizer bunny has kept on going.
This week's video is a brief discussion of California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom's commitment to include illegal immigrants in his free healthcare for all plan. For those keepng track, the state Senate passed a similar program this year, but the Assembly refused to consider it because there was no plan to cover the $400 billion cost. (For perspective the current state budget is about $185 billion.) Support Republican John Cox for governor.
bill bowen - 8/31/2018