Saturday, January 26, 2019

It's Mueller Time: Rolling Stone Edition

Former Manhattan federal prosecutor Elie Honig takes a look at what it would take to make Trump adviser and WikiLeaks conduit Roger Stone turn states' evidence against Donald Trump.

So what would it take to turn Roger Stone into a government witness? I see three areas of vulnerability. First, a prosecutor would need to appeal to – perhaps exploit – Stone’s natural sense of self-preservation. For all the trouble he has been mixed up in over his long career, Stone has never been at any real risk of serving time behind bars. Friday’s indictment might change his bearing a bit. It’s one thing to rail publicly against the possibility of a theoretical future indictment, but another to see seven federal criminal charges, carrying a total maximum sentence of 50 years, in black and white. As a practical matter, Stone isn’t looking at anything close to 50 years, but he easily could be facing five years or so if convicted on all counts. For a 66 year-old man like Stone, that could mean most or all of the rest of his life, which has to be at least a bit sobering. And the evidence laid out in the indictment seems locked in; over and over again, the indictment quotes Stone’s lies and then cites hard proof – typically Stone’s own texts – to prove that he lied. A good prosecutor could make a compelling case that cooperation offers Stone his best and most realistic chance to get through the case without having to serve time.

Second, as much as we don’t like to acknowledge it in our quest for pure justice, money matters. It is expensive to defend yourself in federal court, and it is jaw-droppingly costly to go to trial. Stone has flashed vulnerability on this, declaring that he faces legal fees of $2 million – not an outrageous estimate, if a trial is involved – while noting that he is “not a wealthy man” and begging for crowdfunded donations.

Third, Stone is nothing if not ego-driven. We all are, of course, but Stone’s in his own league. A prosecutor might therefore make a pitch to Stone along these lines. You can stay quiet, you can be a “stand-up” guy, you can fight the government and maybe even go to trial. Trump will send nice tweets about you, you’ll have a heavy media following for a couple years, but ultimately you’ll be a strange footnote in history. Or you can flip and be John Dean.

Of course, there’s one trump card – sorry, it’s just the right word – that could override all of this: a presidential pardon. A pardon is the golden ring for Stone. He’d walk free and it costs nothing. Many took Trump’s tweet supporting Stone’s silence as a hint of Trump’s inclination to issue a pardon. Perhaps the best response then is to remind Stone that he’d be taking an awfully big roll of the dice on the generosity of a guy not exactly known for it. Stone knows Trump’s personality: do you think Trump would do a favor for you, I’d ask Stone, if it meant putting himself in one ounce of political jeopardy over the backlash? Trump’s already got enough problems, legal and political, without taking on any more water to protect a far-past-his-prime political brawler.

If Stone somehow did see the light and cooperate, the rewards could be dizzying. If Stone did come clean, imagine what he could deliver. Starting with Friday’s indictment, Stone presumably could identify the “senior Trump Campaign officials” he spoke with about Wikileaks and dissemination of hacked e-mails – including, most tantalizingly, the person who “directed” a “senior Trump Campaign official” to contact Stone about the Wikileaks releases. Stone also could bolster a long-rumored case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, identified as “the head of Organization-1” in the indictment. And that’s just based on Friday’s indictment, without even getting into Stone’s decades of political rough trade.

Stone remains unlikely to cooperate. But I’ve seen crazier things happen. If a prosecutor played it just right, he just might press the right buttons of self-interest and grandeur necessary to get Stone in the door. And if that happened somehow, Stone would pose a unique threat to Trump and his administration.

Here's the thing though: I think the fact that Mueller delivered a dozen sealed indictments on Thursday along with Stone's (and the only reason we know about Stone is that he was an immediate flight risk) means he's going to make an offer, and yes, we know every other major player Mueller has dropped the hammer on has cooperated in some way.

More arrests are coming, but we're at the point now where there's not a lot of people left above Manafort, Cohen, and Stone.  The two people who should be sweating bullets right now are Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. and believe me, both of them know it.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Karen Yourish and Larry Buchanan at the NY Times helpfully chart out the fact that Trump campaign officials had contact with Russian nationals more than 100 times before Trump's inauguration, and Donald Trump lied about every single one of them at one time or another, including the half-dozen times Trump himself came in contact with Russians.

During the 2016 presidential campaign and transition, Donald J. Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, a New York Times analysis has found. At least 10 other associates were told about interactions but did not have any themselves.

Knowledge of these interactions is based on New York Times reporting, documents submitted to Congress, and court records and accusations related to the special counsel investigating foreign interference in the election.

Among these contacts are more than 100 in-person meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails and private messages on Twitter. Mr. Trump and his campaign repeatedly denied having such contacts with Russians during the 2016 election.

The special counsel has also investigated connections between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released thousands of Democratic emails that were hacked by Russia before the election.

Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire who hosted a Miss Universe pageant with Mr. Trump in Moscow, and the billionaire’s son, Emin, reached out to Mr. Trump several times. (Separately, both men helped arrange the now-famous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney about getting information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton.) Mr. Trump was also pursuing a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Mr. Cohen was deeply involved in the plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. His partner in the effort was Felix Sater, a Trump business associate with deep contacts in Russia. Mr. Cohen admitted lying to Congress about the duration of the project’s discussions and the extent of Mr. Trump’s involvement in them. And Mr. Cohen is also now known to have met with a Russian oligarch on a separate matter.

Mr. Trump Jr. had various contacts with Russians and a Russian intermediary regarding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, as well as the possibility of setting up a campaign page on a Russian social media site. He also exchanged private messages with WikiLeaks.

And the list goes on.  For a witch hunt, there's enough here for an eighth Harry Potter book and possibly a sequel to Hocus Pocus.

Trump was up to his neck in Russians.  We know the Russians interfereed with the 2016 election process on behalf of Trump.  Don't let the GOP gaslight you on these facts.

Mueller has the receipts, and when he delivers, it's up to us to act upon that information and force the Trump regime out.

The Wall Is Dead, Long Live The Wall

There are pretty much two constants in 2019:

1) The Wall is a scam.

2) Kris Kobach never met a scam he didn't like.

With President Trump’s border wall tied up by his fight with congressional Democrats, and public opinion about the wall mixed, Kris Kobach wants to take matters into his own hands.

Fresh from his defeat in the race for Kansas governor, Mr. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is involved in an audacious new project — a privately-funded wall along the Mexican border.

Mr. Kobach, a hard-line ally of President Trump known for his strident stand on immigration, has long advocated a tough border policy.

He is currently an advisory board member of “We Build the Wall Inc.” a nonprofit group that has collected more than $12 million toward the effort. Mr. Kobach says the group has obtained the presidential seal of approval for the private initiative.

President Trump gave the undertaking his “blessing” in a telephone conversation Wednesday night, according to Mr. Kobach.

The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Kobach, 52, says the group will begin construction soon on its first section of the wall on donated property, likely in Texas, and that the work can be completed cheaply and efficiently by the private sector.

The private wall idea is an outgrowth of a plan started in December as a GoFundMe campaign by Brian Kolfage, a disabled Air Force veteran living in Florida who says the impetus for his project was mounting public frustration over the government’s failure to reach an agreement on border protection.

After raising nearly $20 million, the organization was forced to contact donors because it hadn’t reached its initial goal of $1 billion. At that point, contributions would be automatically returned to donors unless they opted back in. Mr. Kobach said that efforts to retain contributors had been very successful, with 94 percent of those contacted transferring the money into the new effort.

So basically Kris Kobach saw a small scam, and decided he could make it a REALLY REALLY BIG SCAM instead.  Never let it be said that Republican crooks lack ambition.

In all seriousness, "privatize the wall" was going to happen anyway.  Now we get to see the MAGA types hem and haw rather than donate to this thing.
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