Was This Tuesday Bloody Tuesday for Trump?

Yesterday, August 21st, a day that will live in infamy. Ok, that’s a little exaggerated, but it was a rough day for the Trump administration. The headlines are shouting out several stories, but what happened was two-fold:

  • Manafort was charged on 5 counts of tax evasion, as well as not reporting foreign income and 2 charges of bank fraud, basically involving lying to obtain a loan. And along with Manafort whose case is being tried in Virginia, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in New York to 8 counts, including tax fraud, false statements to a bank, and especially campaign finance violations - the hush money paid to women like Stormy Daniels in the closing months and weeks of the 2016 campaign.

  • Duncan Hunter, GOP House Representative for California's 50th district (formerly the 52nd district) was charged along with his wife with corruption for lying about using reportedly $250,000 of his campaign funds for personal expenses, like trips to Hawaii and Italy, and dental work as well.

That is to say, Manafort and Cohen are supposedly all about Trump and the Russia probes. While Duncan Hunter is all about the GOP and corruption.

Let's start with Cohen who basically has plea-bargained and will likely do jail time for perhaps a year or two on perhaps a 3-year sentence and then get out for good behavior and for cooperating with Mueller, or to be more accurate, the SDNY. The deal apparently does not include any further cooperation from Cohen, who by pleading guilty to campaign finance violations has given Mueller at least something to justify the time and expense of their probe.

The problem in Cohen's case is that the campaign finance and tax violations have nothing to do with Russia-Trump collusion. The problem in Manafort's case is that the fraud and evasion charges have nothing to do with Russia-Trump collusion. Were crimes committed? Yes, it certainly seems so. Was a special counsel necessary? That's a question that's going to be asked with increasing frequency.

George Washington U. Law Professor Jonathan Turley asked it this way in his piece in The Hill:

Just as Manafort has some evaluations to make, so does Mueller, who has spent millions of dollars in pursuit of crimes outside the original mandate of misconduct related to the 2016 election and its aftermath. The question here is not why Manafort was prosecuted. He deserved to be prosecuted, and he now is rightfully labeled a felon. The question rather is who should have prosecuted Manafort and why.

What Professor Turley is questioning is Mueller's strategy of trying to get Manafort (and presumably Cohen before he farmed Cohen out to the SDNY) to turn informant on Trump. But it seems his gamble may backfire. If Manafort continues to fight any and all charges, he has potentially a get-out-of-jail card: a presidential pardon from Trump. Has President Trump been signaling this with his latest tweets praising Manafort, after having cursed Cohen? Here's Turley again:

Trump could pardon Manafort for all crimes unrelated to the campaign or its aftermath, allowing Mueller to prosecute Manafort and anyone else for crimes tied to Russian interference with the 2016 election. Trump could then claim that he is not obstructing justice but rather doing what he has long demanded from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which is to keep the special counsel focused on the primary purpose of the investigation and to finish that work without continued delays or more distractions.

In other words, Mueller should have also farmed out Manafort's case to a local law-enforcement jurisdiction like he did with Cohen's case. Because he didn't, he has now given President Trump a reason for pardoning Manafort for any charges unrelated to his brief time as Trump's campaign manager.

And as I've been mentioning lately, the partisan divide on the Mueller investigation is so deep that for one side, Manafort has been unfairly targeted even if he is a bit of a grifter, and for the other side any sort of charges is one more step towards the end-game of impeachment. But Professor Turley is talking about what might actually happen, not what we think of what happens. So, the news about Manafort and Cohen may prove not quite as damaging as some believe it will.

Perhaps the more damaging news is Duncan Hunter and his wife's indictment on charges of misuse of campaign funds with supposedly fake invoices. We now have another prop that Democrats will use to politically indict the Republicans on corruption. Never mind Tony Podesta and Fusion GPS, those are shadowy and complex storylines. This is much easier to sell: they stole their own campaign cash for jaunts to Italy and Hawaii!! Or, he used his connections to dump stock that was about to tank!! As in New York's Chris Collins case. They even have time-stamped a video of him talking on the phone at a picnic in DC right when the logs show Collins' phone calls to family members to dump stock. That helps to sell a story. One they can weave into their capitalism is evil and must be controlled by wise women and men in Washington DC and the Bay Area.

The Russia-Trump narrative is starting to slowly fizzle out. But the Boy-Those-Guys-Are-Corrupt narrative is just getting started. Or getting recycled, again, if we're honest. Maybe that's the one the GOP should be worried about. Maybe that's the one that will make this a Bloody Tuesday for Trump. Not Manafort. Not even Cohen.

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