Friday, September 14, 2018

It's Definitely Mueller Time

Your Friday Mueller News Dump this week is a huge one: former Trump Campaign chairman Paul Manafort has cut a plea deal to avoid his second trial in exchange for cooperating with the Mueller probe into Russian collusion.

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller
Manafort appeared in a Washington, D.C., courtroom Friday morning, looking relaxed in a suit and purple tie, to formally announce the deal.

The deal dismisses deadlocked charges against Manafort from an earlier trial, but only after "successful cooperation” with Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow on its efforts. Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann did not immediately expand on what cooperation is required under the deal. 
The agreement also calls for a 10-year cap on how long Manafort will be sent to prison, and for Manafort to serve time from his separate Virginia and Washington cases concurrently. But it will not release Manafort from jail, where he has been held since Mueller's team added witness tampering charges during the run-up to the longtime lobbyist's trial. 
Manafort addressed U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a soft voice, saying “I do” and “I understand” as she asked him whether he understood what rights he’s giving up. A deputy marshal stood directly behind Manafort, a reminder that he remains in custody. 
Legal experts quickly spun the deal as a win for all the parties involved. Manafort gets a potentially shorter sentence and lessens his legal bills. Trump avoids several weeks of bad headlines ahead of the midterm elections about his corrupt former campaign aide. And Mueller — faced with Trump's constant claims that his probe is a witch hunt — gets to show yet again that his charges are not fabricated and can now divert resources to other elements of his Russia probe. 
But the prospect of Manafort's cooperation with Mueller throws into doubt how much of a win the deal could be for Trump. In addition to running Trump's campaign for several months, Manafort attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump aides through they might get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

It's hard to overstate the importance of this deal.  Mueller wouldn't take this deal (and the judge overseeing Manafort's case wouldn't) unless it served a greater purpose.  And Manafort is still going to get up to ten years tacked on to what he already has from the Virginia trial and he has to forfeit tens of millions in assets, properties, and cash.  He might not actually die in prison.

Donald Trump, on the other hand...well the odds of that being his fate just went up somewhat.  Even a Trump pardon now won't save Manafort...or Trump.  Marcy Wheeler sums it up.

Here’s why this deal is pardon proof: 
  1. Mueller spent the hour and a half delay in arraignment doing … something. It’s possible Manafort even presented the key parts of testimony Mueller needs from him to the grand jury this morning.
  2. The forfeiture in this plea is both criminal and civil, meaning DOJ will be able to get Manafort’s $46 million even with a pardon.
  3. Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.

Remember, back in January, Trump told friends and aides that Manafort could incriminate him (the implication was that only Manafort could). I believe Mueller needed Manafort to describe what happened in a June 7, 2016 meeting between the men, in advance of the June 9 meeting. I have long suspected there was another meeting at which Manafort may be the only other Trump aide attendee.

And Manafort has probably already provided evidence on whatever Mueller needed.

So here’s what Robert Mueller just did: He sewed up the key witness to implicate the President, and he paid for the entire investigation. And it’s only now lunch time.

Robert Mueller just gained the most powerful weapon yet in his arsenal to bring down Trump.  When that weapon is brought to bear, I imagine it will be devastating.

At the very beginning of his time working in Ukraine in 2003, Paul Manafort was in the employ of one Russia’s richest men, an aluminum magnate called Oleg Deripaska. We lazily describe many Russian oligarchs as residing in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. But in the case of Oleg Deripaska, that closeness is a documented fact.

Between 2003 and 2008, Manafort and his firm worked for Deripaska across Europe—in Montenegro, Georgia, and Ukraine. Over that time, the consultant and client also became business partners. Deripaska invested millions in a private equity fund that Manafort established, with the intent of buying assets across the former Soviet Union. Based on various court filings and lawsuits, we know that the relationship went very badly. In these documents, Deripaska suggests that Manafort might have stolen his money. And based on the Special Prosecutors filings, we also know that Manafort owed Deripaska even more money in the form of unpaid loans. Instead of making an effort to settle these large debts, Deripaska says that Manafort simply stopped returning his messages.

Manafort finally reached out to Deripaska, just after he joined Donald Trump’s campaign. In emails obtained by The Atlantic that Paul Manafort traded with an aide, Manafort proposed giving Deripaska special access to the campaign, with the apparent hope of making his debts disappear. We don’t know what became of Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska. Perhaps, it yielded nothing. Deripaska claims that he never received messages from Manafort in 2016. But it’s also worth watching hidden video footage of Deripaska, sitting on his yacht with a top Putin official, procured by the Russian opposition politicians Alexey Navalny. The video captured a meeting held in August 2016, two weeks before Manafort resigned as campaign chair. According to Navalny, the video lends credibility to theory that Deripaska might have been a crucial intermediary between Manafort and the Kremlin.

This is just part of the answers to burning questions that Mueller could get from Manafort.  That's just the start.

And Trump knows it.

If you thought Trump was freaked out before...

But Trump’s anger over Woodward’s book is dwarfed by his continuing fixation on the anonymous New York Times op-ed. Sources told me Trump is “obsessed,” “lathered,” and “freaked out” that the leaker is still in his midst. His son Don Jr. has told people he’s worried Trump isn’t sleeping because of it, a source said. Meetings have been derailed by Trump’s suspicion. “If you look at him the wrong way, he’ll spend the next hour thinking you wrote it,” a Republican close to the White House said. Much of what’s fueling Trump’s paranoia is that he has no clear way to identify the author. One adviser said Trump has instructed aides to call the anonymous author a “coward” in public to shame him or her. “He’s going to continue to shame this person,” a person close to Trump said. “The author will break under pressure or will eventually say, ‘fuck it, it’s me.’” Plans to administer polygraph tests to staff have seemingly died. “Nobody knows who it is,” a former official said.

Oh, and a final thought on why Manafort cooperated from Josh Marshall.

The two words “remain safe” in Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing’s comment on his client’s decision this morning says quite a lot. “He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”

The kind of people that Manafort is giving up here are the kind of people that make sure chatty people's families end up in mysteriously fatal accidents, if you catch my drift.

Stay tuned.

In A New York (Primary) Minute

Matthew Yglesias comes not to praise NY Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 30-point plus win in last night's Democratic primary over Cynthia Nixon, but to bury his 2020 chances for having to fight this battle at all.

Somewhat ironically, it was actually Cuomo’s presidential aspirations that, in retrospect, have ended up dooming his presidential aspirations.

His father was a liberal icon in his day, and with New York a considerably bluer-than-average state, one natural role for Cuomo to have taken early in his term would have been that of progressive champion. Cuomo was first elected in 2010, the exact same year that national Democrats lost their majorities in Congress, and his New York could have been the proving ground for the next great progressive policy agenda. But he actually had the opposite fear — that governing as a progressive in such a heavily Democratic state would push him to adopt policies that would make him unelectable in a national contest.

Consequently, Cuomo has consistently worked behind the scenes to keep the New York state Senate in Republican hands via the machinations of a small group of state senators who, despite winning election as Democrats, caucus with the GOP. That kept the most ambitious progressive ideas off the legislative agenda, allowing Cuomo to avoid both having overt fights with his base and endorsing policies that pushed the state substantially to the left.

It was a subtle, well-executed game — subtle enough to not be understood by most voters in New York’s Democratic primaries — but in retrospect, it was too clever by half. The mood among national Democrats has swung substantially to the left over the past five years, with Barack Obama recently endorsing ideas like Medicare-for-all and employee representation on corporate boards.

Had Cuomo simply done the normal thing and supported Democratic state Senate candidates and gotten the chance he feared to sign ambitious progressive bills, he’d be perfectly positioned for the circumstances of 2020. Instead, as it stands, he’s left relying on a powerful state party machine and the loyalty of less attentive voters to secure what should have been a total cakewalk of a renomination.

And speaking of that "small group of state senators", the Independent Democratic Caucus as they call themselves were upstate Dems caucusing with the GOP in order to keep Cuomo from having to sign progressive legislation.  They voted to install a Republican state senate leader (Dean Skelos, who got busted by Preet Bharara, then John Flanagan who shared the job along with IDC leader Jeffrey Klein) despite the fact the Democrats had the numbers to control both chambers of the state legislature, and got plum leadership committee assignments from the GOP in Albany as a reward.

They broke up in April when they realized they were going to have a bloody fight on their hands and they wanted to pretend they were Dems again. Cuomo gave them cover.

They got rightfully obliterated last night by those "regulars".

Years of anger at a group of Democratic state senators who had collaborated with Republicans boiled over on Thursday, as primary voters ousted most of them in favor of challengers who had called them traitors and sham progressives.

The losses were a resounding upset for the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who outspent their challengers several times over, but also a sign that the impatient progressive fervor sweeping national politics had hobbled New York’s once-mighty Democratic machine, at least on a local level.

The most high-profile casualty was Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the former head of the I.D.C. In that position, he was for years one of Albany’s most powerful players, sharing leadership of the chamber with his counterparts in the Republican conference and participating in the state’s secretive budget negotiations.

But on Thursday, he was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after a campaign in which Ms. Biaggi cornered Mr. Klein into spending nearly $2 million — more than 10 times what she spent — since January, an astonishing sum for a state legislative race. (Cynthia Nixon, in her bid against Mr. Cuomo, spent less.)

In addition to Mr. Klein, at least four other former I.D.C. members had lost their races: Senator Tony Avella in Queens; Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; Senator Marisol Alcántara in Manhattan.

At my count this morning six of the eight IDC members are gone now, but that still leaves a 31-31 tie with Democratic one-man roadblock Simcha Felder siding with the GOP and giving them 32.  Dems will have to win in upstate NY, and frankly, after last night's massive turnout, I'm betting they can.

That's going to leave Cuomo in a nasty spot where he may have to, you know, sign progressive legislation next year.

Meanwhile in the NY AG Dem primary to replace Eric Schniederman, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James pretty handily won her primary race over Zephyr Teachout.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James won a four-way Democratic primary for attorney general in New York on Thursday in a race that was a competition over who could best use the office to antagonize President Donald Trump.

James, 59, would become the first black woman to hold a statewide elected office in New York if she prevails in the general election, where she will be heavily favored. Trump nemesis Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, abruptly resigned from the post in May amid allegations he physically abused women he dated.

James defeated a deep field of fellow Democrats: U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout and former Hillary Clinton adviser Leecia Eve.

New York's attorney general has long had an unusual role as a regulator of Wall Street and an occasional prosecutor of the rich and powerful. The office also recently opened an investigation of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. But in this contest, Trump emerged as the common foe among all the candidates.

This is the office that will have to continue the criminal investigation of the Trump Organization should Mueller and company get Saturday Night Massacred.

Onward to November.


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