A New York State judge has ordered former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to be transferred to New York Cities Rikers Island. Monite Montgomery has more.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America serve up all crazy martinis Tuesday. They begin with a report from the UK Guardian newspaper that Paul Manafort met multiple times with Julian Assange in London, including early 2016 when Manafort was about to become chairman for the Trump campaign. They also get a kick out of Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke abandoning his pledge never to run for president in 2020 just three weeks after making it. And they wonder whether taxpayers will wind up on the hook again as President Trump tries to stop General Motors from shuttering five plants and laying off thousands of workers in the U.S.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on eight federal counts on Tuesday and accused President Trump of conspiring with him to violate campaign finance laws to buy the silence of two former mistresses in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
According to Cohen, Trump authorized him to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known more commonly as Stormy Daniels, as part of non-disclosure agreements with them with the explicit intent to benefit the Trump campaign. Cohen says Trump later paid him back.
Mainstream and social media immediately exploded, with many liberals talking impeachment and many Trump defenders wondering how campaign finance law could be broken when none of the funds came from the campaign.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy says both sides need to come to grips with reality, starting with Trump defenders who think there can’t be a crime resulting from the payments. He says it depends upon why the money was spent.
“It’s the kind of thing you would expend campaign money on if somebody else didn’t pay it by other means. That’s why it’s an in-kind contribution.
“If you’re doing an expenditure, the purpose of which is designed in part to lighten the burden of the campaign, which would otherwise pay the same money, then it’s a campaign contribution. I really don’t get the argument that it’s not,” said McCarthy.
What does strike McCarthy as unusual is prosecutors lodging a felony charge over the payments. He says campaigns often make mistakes and usually the problems get resolved without litigation. He says the Obama campaign is a well-known example.
“The one we typically talk about is the 2008 Obama campaign, which had about two million dollars worth of illegal contributions, which obviously dwarf the amount of money that we’re talking about in connection with these hush money agreements. Yet, that was settled with a $375,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also has some bad news for liberals getting their pitchforks and impeachment campaigns ready/
“What we’re talking about here is not really the crime of the century, even if they could prove it against President Trump, which I think they probably couldn’t,” said McCarthy.
He says something like this might get thrown into the mix if far more serious issues arise, but is a non-starter for impeachment on its own.
“As a standalone matter, no one’s getting impeached over a campaign finance violation. At least they shouldn’t,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy offers that last caveat because the House of Representatives can impeach a president for whatever they believe is appropriate and the same goes for a Senate conviction.
McCarthy is also skeptical of suggestions from Cohen attorney Lanny Davis that Cohen has proof of Trump collaborating with Russia to hack Democratic National Committee emails.
“(Special Counsel Robert Mueller) transferred this case to the Southern District of New York. It’s very hard for me to believe that Mueller, who has a lot more information than anyone else does about what proof he has of collusion – if he thought that Cohen was helpful to that case, I don’t see him letting that case walk to the Southern District of New York,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says Trump’s biggest problem in the weeks ahead may be himself. He says Trump’s consistent haranguing of Mueller and his team on Twitter and in public statements is only making the special counsel more determined to hammer him.
“If I were the prosecutor and my honor was being attacked every single day, I would be motivated when my time finally came to file a report, to write the report to end all reports.
“I’m not saying that you make up information. But there’s a way of writing things when you want to soft sell them and there’s a way of writing things when you want to be very aggressive,” said McCarthy.
That said, McCarthy says it seems clear that the collusion investigation is sputtering out and does not expect Paul Manafort to reinvigorate the probe even if he were to cooperate with Mueller.
McCarthy says anything of value from Manafort would already be known by prosecutors through Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who became the government’s chief witness against Trump’s one-time campaign manager.
“Think about what Mueller’s done in the six months since Mueller became a cooperator. He’s filed two indictments against groups of Russians, which don’t come close to hinting that there’s any complicity by the Trump campaign with Russia’s perfidy in connection with the election,” said McCarthy, who thinks Mueller went after Manafort solely over crimes committed long before there was ever an affiliation with Trump.
“I think he’s interested in Manafort for Manafort. I don’t think he’s interested in Manafort to try to make a case against Trump because I don’t think he thinks there is one on collusion. Obstruction’s a different story, but I just don’t see this collusion with Russia thing happening,” said McCarthy.
Listen to “Facebook Fights Fake Accounts, Trump Defends Manafort, Howard Schultz 2020?” on Spreaker.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Chad Benson of Radio America are glad Facebook has uncovered and eliminated coordinated activity involving fake accounts that promote fringe political movements on both the far right and far left, thus debunking the idea that Russia wants to elect Republicans. They also fail to see why President Donald Trump keeps sticking his neck out for Paul Manafort, since the charges are separate from the Russia collusion investigation. And they discuss former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’ potential partnership with former John McCain presidential campaign adviser Steve Schmidt to mount a 2020 presidential run.
A federal judge blasted the special counsel investigation of Robert Mueller Friday, accusing the former FBI director of assuming “unfettered” authority and maintaining control of the Paul Manafort prosecution solely to squeeze out incriminating information about President Trump.
And a former federal prosecutor says this was an “unprecedented rebuke” of Mueller and his team, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe.
“This was a smashmouth takedown,” said Joe diGenova, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “To question the integrity, in essence, of Mr. Mueller, because of the nature of the case that he has in front of him in federal court, is truly unprecedented.”
On Friday, District Judge T.S. Ellis strongly challenged the authority Mueller and his team have to veer off into prosecuting financial crimes, such as the ones lodged against one-time Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
Ellis specifically wanted to know why Mueller’s team had no trouble referring the Michael Cohen case to the Southern District of New York but continues to handle the prosecution of Manafort on financial allegations unrelated to Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said Friday.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment,” he added.
Ellis also took aim at Mueller’s approach to the investigation.
“What we don’t want in this country, we don’t want anyone with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited powers to do anything her or she wants,” said Ellis.
Ellis has been on the federal bench since 1987. diGenova says Ellis has a reputation for being a conservative but calm judge, which makes his comments on Friday all the more striking.
“I was absolutely stunned in a positive way that a judge, who was so fundamentally conservative in both his approach and his demeanor in court, was so appalled by what was happening in front of him. This is a very bad sign for Mueller,” said diGenova.
“This was a remarkable dressing down for Mr. Mueller,” he added.
“What it shows is that seeping out into the federal court system and judges is a sense that not only is the Mueller investigation out of control, but the supervision of it by Rod Rosenstein is either non-existent or out of control. That is a very bad sign for Mr. Mueller and Mr. Rosenstein,” said diGenova.
In addition to the specifics of the investigation, diGenova says the comments from Ellis mark an important moment.
“What we are watching here is the slow education of the American people through a civics lesson, which is being conducted through the media. People are discussing the law and the Constitution and the threat to our constitutional order that the Mueller investigation represents, because it started with no crime being investigated,” said diGenova.
“People are beginning to see that the original sin in the Mueller investigation was the outrageous memorandum signed by Rod Rosenstein appointing him, which mentioned no crime to be investigated,” said diGenova.
diGenova suspects the rebuke from Judge Ellis will likely quash any possibility of Mueller to subpoena President Trump.
“I don’t think he’s going to issue a subpoena because I think Bob Mueller knows he’s going to do something then which will take him down. That will be an act of suicide. But if he is arrogant enough to do it, it will destroy his investigation. It will take him down.
“This will be the kind of stupid overreach that frequently undoes constitutional officers,” said diGenova.
On Friday, Mueller’s attorney, Michael Dreeben, argued that prosecuting Manafort is within the scope of the investigation based on a letter signed by Rosenstein after the investigation began. Ellis demanded to see the letter within two weeks.
diGenova says Ellis will likely dismiss the case against Manafort if Mueller refuses to share the Rosenstein letter. Even if Ellis gets to see it, Manafort could soon get good news, given the timing of the letter.
“Remember, that letter came to Mueller from Rosenstein after the raid on Paul Manfort’s home in Virginia. That could be a very serious legal problem for Mr. Mueller,” said diGenova.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome the retirement of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and give him credit for the things he’s done well, and while they like Mitt Romney, they wonder if Utah is missing out on a younger and more conservative replacement for Hatch. They also slam President Trump for his childish tweet about having a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-Un. And they react to Steve Bannon unloading on his former White House rivals and accusing Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort of treason.
Update: Since this recording, Trump has responded to Bannon. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” reads part of the statement. Trump also accuses Bannon of leaking extensively during his time in office.
The political world is abuzz Monday with the news of multi-count indictments against two Trump campaign officials and a guilty plea of a third, but a former federal prosecutor says virtually none of the charges are related to the Trump campaign and none of it comes anywhere close to collusion with the Russians.
After teasing the media with word that indictments could be coming down as soon as Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller ordered former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s longtime business associate, Richard Gates, to turn themselves in.
By late morning, a 12-count indictment was revealed against the men on charges ranging from conspiracy against the United States to tax fraud and money laundering. Soon after that, Mueller’s office revealed that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to charges of making false statements.
Reaction was swift and wide-ranging. Many in the media and political operatives on the left posited that Monday’s announcements are just the tip of the iceberg that could result in major political and legal problems for other Trump advisers and even some family members. Supporters of the president say the only charges filed so far have nothing to do with the original purpose of Mueller’s probe.
Former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova says the latter argument is the big takeaway from Monday.
“This has nothing to do with collusion with the Russians. That’s number one. It involves previous work that Manafort did for the Ukranian government and various Ukranian organizations, which he failed to report to the U.S. government because he was doing work on their behalf, lobbying the U.S. government in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said diGenova.
“It has nothing to do with the campaign and it involves activities from 2006-2015, before [Manafort] got anywhere near the Trump campaign,” said diGenova.
As for Papadopoulos, diGenova says those crimes also had nothing to do with the Trump campaign.
“He was actually questioned about connections – while he was working for the campaign – with Russians, all of which he admitted do and which were perfectly legal. But he lied to the bureau about those connections and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his activities, both before and while he was working for the campaign,” said diGenova.
But diGenova says it is critical to note that Papadopoulos was not charged with anything else.
“That touches on the campaign but it does not involve any illegal activity by the campaign or by Mr. Papadopoulos while he was a member of the campaign. It’r really quite bizarre. It’s an example of the old adage: it isn’t the crime, it’s the cover up,” said diGenova.
The mainstream media is actively suggesting that the conversations Papadopoulos had with Russians is the beginning of the evidence needed to show collusion. diGenova says there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the communication campaigns can have with foreign governments.
“It’s not illegal to talk to a foreign government during a campaign. It’s not illegal to have meetings with foreigners or foreign governments during a campaign. It’s not illegal to travel overseas to meet with foreign governments or foreign officials, all of which Mr. Papadopoulos did,” said diGenova.
“The other stuff that people are making out of this is nothing that campaign hasn’t already admitted to. They admitted that they met with people from Russia. Some of it was pretty goofy stuff. Some of it was minor in terms of policy.
“But so far, there is no evidence in either one of these indictments of anything involving the word collusion,” said diGenova.
As for the charges against Manafort, diGenova says those are very serious. He says allegations of not paying taxes on the money he earned and effectively laundering it through overseas real estate deals not only put him in legal jeopardy but he effectively forced his accountants and lawyers to unwittingly pass false information on to the government as well.
Ultimately, diGenova expects Manafort to accept a plea bargain. He says he’d be very surprised to see the case go to trial.
So do these charges fit the instructions given to Mueller to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 elections or is this too far afield? diGenova says the Justice Department never gave Mueller any specific crime to investigate, leaving his mission very open ended.
“I think it was a mistake to give such a broad mandate to Mr. Mueller. That’s not Mr. Mueller’s fault. That’s a decision the Department of Justice made and I think it was a bad one,” said diGenova.
However, diGenova still believes the most important questions about shady connections between the U.S. and Russia revolve around the transfer of 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves to Russia near the same time major donations were made to the Clinton Foundation. He wants a special counsel appointed to investigate that case.
But diGenova says the revelations of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paying millions of dollars for a former British intelligence officer to mine his Russian sources for dirt on Donald Trump is the biggest bombshell of all.
“The dossier could be in the jurisdiction of Robert Mueller. But if it isn’t, that certainly needs to be investigated by another special counsel or the Department of Justice,” said diGenova.
“I think the most serious stuff that’s come out recently is the dossier. I think that is directly related to the campaign and the use of Russian influence to try and discredit a candidate,” said diGenova.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and note that none of the charges appear to be connect to the Trump campaign. They also discuss the guilty plea from former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on charges of making false statements. And they are aghast as a new ad from the Latino Victory Fund paints anyone who supports the GOP candidate for governor in Virginia as racists who want to kill minority children.
After months of current and former federal officials insisting there was no merit to allegations the government conducted surveillance on Donald Trump or his campaign during the 2016 cycle, there are now reports that former campaign manager Paul Manafort was being wiretapped.
After Trump tweeted his frustration at the Obama administration for greenlighting the alleged wiretapping, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper rejected and validity to such an assertion.
“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect as a candidate or against his campaign,” said Clapper on NBC’s “Meet the Press” back in March.
But CNN’s revelation that the government did procure a FISA warrant against Manafort and conduct surveillance in on him in 2016 and 2017 brings such denials under the spotlight once again. Most importantly, did they lie?
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy says the way Clapper and others carefully worded their denials earlier this year probably leaves them some wiggle room.
“I always thought that the denials, as indignant as they were by people connected to the Obama administration and even from the Justice Department after Trump took it over were always carefully couched and very narrow,” said McCarthy.
“What I took the denials to mean was that they were saying they never targeted Trump himself for surveillance and even more specifically that Obama did not do it,” said McCarthy.
“I always thought that was quite narrow because as we know, the president does not go to the FISA court and get the authorization to do these surveillances, much less do the physical work to set up the surveillance himself,” said McCarthy.
“I always thought that the loudness and indignation of the denials was much broader than what the denials actually said read carefully,” he added.
According to CNN’s reporting, Manafort was under surveillance from 2014 to early 2016 and again from late 2016 to sometime earlier this year, including time when Trump was president. At issue, according to sources, was Manafort’s cozy relationship with the ousted pro-Putin regime of Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine, and ultimately whether he was tapping those connections to aid Trump’s campaign in any way.
Still, the government’s pursuit of a FISA warrant is much different than a standard criminal search warrant.
“You have to show there’s probable cause that the subject is an agent of a foreign power. That’s importantly different from a criminal warrant. In a criminal case, you have to show that there’s probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed and that evidence of a crime is likely to be recovered in the place that you want to search,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says the political circumstances surrounding the case should not impact the enforcement of the law but he says there is usually great sensitivity exercised when political events could be impacted. As a result this decision, should have been deliberated at the highest levels of government.
“That gets scrutinized, not only much more carefully at the FISA court, (but) it also should be scrutinized very heavily in the Justice Department, the FBI, and the upper ranks of the administration before you would even go to the FISA court to seek the surveillance,” said McCarthy.
The New York Times is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is using “shock and awe” tactics, meaning he is threatening witnesses with considerable punishment for not cooperating fully with the Mueller team.
McCarthy says we already saw that when the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid of Manafort’s Virginia home in July. He points out that any raid conducted before 6 a.m. and allowing agents to pick the locks at a home require special permission from the court.
But perhaps the most curious part of the FBI’s physical raid on Manafort’s home was the timing of it.
“The search warrant that Mueller did came on the day after Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators and on the very day he was supposed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy suspects there could be multiple motives at work. One is simply that investigators are eager to determine exactly how much Russia did to influence the 2016 elections, which he believes is warranted.
However, in a politically charged atmosphere like Washington, he says some could be trying to make whatever evidence is in hand fit a political goal.
“I think there are other people looking to cement a political narrative that it was Trump collusion and Russian espionage that cost Hillary Clinton the election. There’s all kinds of factors and considerations that go into it. But certainly Manafort and his prior connection to this Ukrainian faction gives a lot of ammunition to the investigators,” said McCarthy.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy watching Nancy Pelosi get drowned out by amnesty activists who think she and Chuck Schumer are not doing enough for people who are in the U.S. illegally. They also discuss the revelation that the feds did in fact wiretap former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election. And they have no problem with President Trump referring to Kim Jong-Un as “Rocket Man,” given that decades of professional diplomatic statements have achieved so little.