By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO
What was once considered politically devastating is now par for the course when it comes to judging Donald Trump’s future.
Being under investigation for possible collusion with a foreign country or obstruction of justice is now daily debate fodder on political news shows.
In a different time not too long ago (really just two years ago) even the hint of a criminal investigation would have derailed a political career and sent supporters running for the nearest exit.
In fact, during the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump used such concerns as a reason for people not to vote for Hillary Clinton, and the irony seems comical now.
“There’s virtually no doubt that FBI Director Comey and the great, great special agents of the FBI will be able to collect more than enough evidence to garner indictments against Hillary Clinton and her inner circle, despite her efforts to disparage them and to discredit them. If she were to win this election, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis. In that situation, we could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and ultimately a criminal trial.”
But now, just two years later, it’s Donald Trump that’s at the center of a growing investigation and now he’s the one disparaging and discrediting the “great special agents” of the FBI.
Oh, how far we’ve come in such a short time.
What started as an investigation into whether Russia interfered in our 2016 elections has now spun off criminal indictments for financial crimes and especially lying under oath, as we saw again this Thursday with Michael Cohen.
Although Donald Trump continues to call the investigation a “witch hunt”, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has now charged 34 people with 100 criminal charges, including some close advisors to Trump like Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Michael Flynn, who was the National Security Advisor, and Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and fixer, have now admitted to lying about interactions with Russians. Although both men plead guilty to counts of lying to investigators, they both did so with the agreement to cooperate with Mueller and give up all they know about Trump.
This week, Cohen made a surprise court appearance to plead guilty to lying in his testimony before Congress last year.
In that interview, Cohen said he was working with Russians on a potential Trump Tower project in Moscow up until January 2016 when the campaign got into full swing. Trump himself has repeated that same timeline to dismiss criticism that he was actively working deals in Russia while running.
Cohen now admits that was a lie; he continued working on the Russian deal up until June 2016, and he kept Trump and others at Trump’s company informed of his work. That means that everyone that told that story was lying, too.
And what else was happening in June 2016?
On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law), and Paul Manafort met with Russians at Trump Tower in hopes of receiving dirt on Clinton.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Donald Trump Jr. emailed to the contact.
The following week, news broke that Russians had hacked the computer system of the Democratic National Committee. Trump would later challenge Russians publicly to find emails that Hillary Clinton has supposedly erased, implying that he was okay with the illegal hacking.
Paul Manafort also began serving as the Trump campaign’s chairman in June when he was brought in to help secure the Republican Party nomination.
Soon after that, however, his former work for the Ukrainian president and a Russian billionaire became news and Trump cut him off to help keep the story from becoming a distraction.
Too little too late.
When the Mueller investigation was launched to look into the Russian involvement in the election, Manafort was a prime target.
In July 2017, Manafort’s home was raided by the FBI, and he was soon charged in two different courts with felonies for money laundering, failing to file as a foreign agent, making false statements, bank fraud, and tax evasion. He’s accused of hiding millions in off-shore accounts and avoiding paying taxes.
After a trial in Virginia in August of this year, Manafort was convicted on eight financial charges and faces up to 20 years in prison.
The following month, right before a trial in DC was about to begin, Manafort plead guilty to counts of witness tampering and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The plea agreement meant Manafort would begin cooperating with Mueller and tell them more about Trump’s ties to Russians.
Now fast forward to this week and another major development. Prosecutors announced that their deal with Manafort had broken down because he had lied during his cooperation, and it was revealed that Manafort’s lawyers were communicating with Trump’s lawyers the whole time.
Legal experts now believe Manafort was a mole to find out what Mueller’s team knew, and it may have helped Trump in completing his written answers he submitted to Mueller this week.
When news broke that both Cohen was cooperating and Manafort wasn’t, Trump’s public comments made experts believe he was hinting at a possible pardon for Manafort.
Trump called Cohen “weak” and “not like others”, meaning he was talking but Manafort wasn’t. Trump has repeatedly said Manafort is being treated “very unfairly”.
When asked this week if he was considering a pardon, Trump said he wouldn’t “take it off the table”.
Sure, Trump has the constitutional power to pardon anyone he wishes to, but to pardon someone that may have incriminating evidence against him really stinks like obstruction of justice, especially when he dangles it out there as an incentive not to talk.
Legal experts disagree on whether a pardon for someone that could testify against Trump would be obstruction. Maybe Mueller is hoping Trump takes the bait and incriminates himself.
Mueller seems to be playing chess and Trump is playing checkers. The boards may look the same, but the moves are completely different.
As the political world awaits the next moves, only one player seems to be rattled and worried. While Trump frantically tweets that it’s all just a witch hunt, Mueller remains completely silent, surfacing only when he has a target dead in his sights. So far, he’s secured a 100% conviction record.
No matter what happens next, one thing is for sure; we’ve reached a new low in our dysfunctional politics. Investigations, indictments, plea deals, presidential tweets criticizing the Justice Department, and vague references to pardons.
Richard Nixon must be rolling in his grave, regretting he was 40 years to early. But today’s standards, he probably would have survived Watergate. That’s sad.