EconoMatters, Rethinking America

The Noose Around Trump’s Neck Is Tightening

It is possible that Manafort and Cohen have information relating to money trails between the Trump Organization and Russian businessmen, including ones with close ties to the Kremlin.

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Paul Manafort’s financial troubles may lead him to change his mind and start spilling the beans to Mueller.
  • Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, states that Cohen has a lot more information that he can disclose to Robert Mueller that would damage the president.
  • In theory, Trump could use his powers to pardon all of his former associates. Were he to do so, then the impeachment campaign would assuredly gather momentum.
  • It is improbable that impeachment will be a real issue before Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigations and attempts to send a complete report to the Congress.
  • Trump’s defenders are likely to mount a major public relations campaign to explicitly blame the Democrats, especially Clinton and Obama, for striving to destroy Trump’s presidency, his businesses and his family.

There is so much media excitement about the latest U.S. court room decisions that explicitly threaten the presidency of Donald Trump that it is easy to forget that we remain in the early stages of a long, wearing and frightening drama.

The noose appears to be tightening after a jury found former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort guilty of assorted financial crimes.

On the very same day, the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, the man who had previously stated that he was prepared to take a bullet for the president, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and making secret pay-offs to women on behalf of Trump. A reality check is in order.

Impeachment

There has never been a criminal indictment against a sitting U.S. president and it is the view of the U.S. Department of Justice, which some American lawyers question, that no such action can be taken.

First, it is widely suggested, the House of Representatives would need to determine if the president should be impeached, then it would hold hearings on articles of impeachment and, if it votes in favor, then final decisions would rest with the U.S. Senate, where a two-third majority would be needed.

There is no chance whatever that the current Republican Party-controlled House of Representatives will move against Trump. But if the Democrats win the House in November’s elections, then Trump could be in grave trouble – at least in the House. He knows it. He is determined to campaign fiercely across the country to boost Republican candidates.

Mueller’s report

Second, it is improbable — irrespective of what happens in the courts — that impeachment will be a real issue before Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigations and attempts to send a complete report to the Congress. Trump may seek to pressure the Justice Department to prevent this from happening.

Michael Cohen stated in court that he paid cash on the eve of the 2016 election to buy the silence of two women that Trump had affairs with. He said he was directed to pay the cash, using Trump campaign funds, by Donald Trump.

If this is true, then it is a serious violation of U.S. election laws. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, states that Cohen has a lot more information that he can disclose to Robert Mueller that would damage the president.

The message is clear: Cohen will rat on Trump in exchange for a light prison sentence.

Manafort’s cash pressures

Meanwhile, Manafort has so far refused to cooperate with Mueller. But given that he now faces many years in jail on tax evasion and bank fraud charges on which he has been found guilty, his calculus may change.

It matters that he may have to pay heavy fines as well. Plus, his legal costs are mounting. He faces another trial on money laundering and illegal lobbying for foreign interests, including the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

His financial troubles may lead him to change his mind and start spilling the beans to Mueller.

It is possible that Manafort and Cohen have information relating to money trails between the Trump Organization and Russian businessmen, including ones with close ties to the Kremlin. This is just speculation, but there is all manner of so far unrelated pieces of information that suggest something bigger:

• Cohen allegedly went to Prague at one point in 2016 to meet with Russian businessmen

• Cohen has a lot of information about Russians who have bought and rented apartments in Trump Tower in New York

• Manafort had multiple complex dealings with prominent Russian businessmen at the very time when he served as Trump’s campaign manager in 2016.

A handful of guilty Trump associates

Cohen and Manafort now await sentencing by their judges. So too do other key individuals who have done deals with Mueller, including deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security advisor Michael Flynn and George Papadopolous, a former foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign.

In theory, Trump could use his powers to pardon all of these former associates. Were he to do so, then the impeachment campaign would assuredly gather momentum. At a minimum, this could result in doing considerable damage to Republican Party prospects in November’s polls.

So far, Republican Senators have been silent about the court-room dramas. This suggests that they continue to support the president. Whatever their private views, they have made their top priority the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senate hearings will start in a couple of weeks. The Senate’s leaders do not want to be side-tracked by any disputes now with the White House. They know this would be exploited by the Democrats who are determined to stop Kavanaugh, but do not appear to have the votes.

Unpredictable Trump

Trump’s defenders are likely to mount a major public relations campaign to explicitly blame the Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, for striving to destroy Trump’s presidency, his businesses and his family. Such wild accusations may seem far-fetched, but they are an integral part of America’s current political narrative.

Mueller continues to enjoy widespread respect, despite the daily attacks on his integrity and his motives by president Trump and his associates. Those personal attacks are likely to rise.

Nevertheless, Mueller will assuredly keep his cool, gather more evidence and indict more people. He is building what I believe will be a devastating report that will make multiple criminal allegations against Trump in exquisite detail.

Conclusion

Trump has much to fear. In such moments, he so often seeks to divert public attention. As the pressures on him rise, so expect him to lash out against his critics and the media with ever greater bombast and viciousness.

More worrying is whether Trump will embroil his country in a dangerous foreign venture – with China? With Iran? With North Korea?

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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