On the same day in late August—Aug. 22, 2018—two close associates of President Donald Trump were convicted in federal court: Paul Manafort by a jury and Michael Cohen through a negotiated plea.
The timing of these convictions is hardly coincidental. They no doubt involved a calculated decision—to create the illusion of momentum.
Prosecutors have much leeway in scheduling pleas (I know, because I was one). They knew the Manafort jury would be returning a verdict within an expectable period of time after being charged by the judge. It would not have been all that difficult to engineer the timing for maximum effect, an example of the tools of publicists being brought to bear on a prosecutorial setting, one where they do not belong.
Attorney Michael Cohen was essentially coerced into pleading guilty to those charges for which he had the most viable defense, but the team of special counsel Robert Mueller held over Cohen‘s head other charges, including money laundering—charges for acts unrelated to the president and his campaign.
But unlike most prosecutors, Mueller was not looking to bring the top charges; he was looking at charges, which though of less importance, come closer to implicating the president. Thus, he created the appearance of a “win” in his investigation of Trump, while simultaneously keeping a hammer to extract useful testimony from Cohen.
It is worth noting that although Mueller has obtained a number of convictions, few fall within the scope of the mandate he received from the Department of Justice. Not that the true scope of the mandate has been revealed to the public—for reasons that are bewildering, inexplicable, and violate the principles of transparency so highly touted throughout officialdom, the actual enabling document has been accorded Top Secret treatment.
As far as we know, Russian collusion is the subject matter of the special counsel’s work. But August’s convictions, and those that came before, do little to further Mueller’s mission regarding the Trump campaign’s supposed collusion with Russia. Other than, of course, encouraging Trump associates into providing derogatory information on their boss through the threat of extended prison sentences.
To charge Cohen for violating campaign finance laws by facilitating the payments to the two women allegedly involved with Trump is tenuous at best. The payments arguably served a dual purpose in that they protected, or were meant to protect, the president’s reputation, and also to avoid embarrassment to his family.
According to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, if the payments served a dual purpose, one campaign-related and one not, then they were not a violation of campaign finance laws. Further, if it can be shown that such payments were made in the past—before the president’s involvement in political activity—then both Cohen and the president would be clearly exonerated of having violated campaign laws by making the payments to women with whom the president had been romantically involved (Trump denies the claims).
And the fact that the president used his own funds to make the payments corroborates the underlying purpose served by the payments—that purpose being not the advancement of his political campaign, but preserving familial relationships jeopardized by his alleged infidelity.
Additionally, only a tortured application of legal principles and the English language can result in a determination that a payment to a former lover, utilizing one’s own funds, is deemed to constitute a violation of a campaign finance regulation. Certainly, in a world of normal principles and priorities, based on established and evolved concepts of morality, the issue would be the appropriateness of the underlying relationship itself, and not whether the use of one’s own funds to avoid disclosure of the relationship violates an arcane and essentially unrelated law.
With regard to Manafort, Mueller apparently could not unearth any campaign-related activity, or actions that could be tenuously connected to the campaign itself. Presumably, unlike Cohen, Manafort did not choose to cooperate and throw his former boss under the bus. Thus, in all likelihood, Manafort did not have the option to plead to a lesser charge. And because he had been closely associated with Trump in the past, thus coming to the special counsel’s focused attention, he now faces spending the better part of the rest of his life in prison.
For both convicts, the next steps are the preparation of a pre-sentence report, followed by a formal sentencing. A reasonable prediction will be that Cohen will cooperate to the maximum extent possible, wanting to spend his remaining years with family and freedom. Manafort will probably receive a recommendation from prosecutors that amounts to a life sentence for the 67-year-old former campaign chief.
The one bright light for Manafort: trial Judge T. S. Ellis’s voiced suspicions about the motives behind the prosecution. Ellis will also be the sentencing judge, and there lies Manafort’s only chance to avoid the harsh sentence the prosecutors will no doubt seek.
Epoch Times contributor Marc Ruskin is a 27-year veteran of the FBI, an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.” He served on the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.