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What Do Manafort and Mueller have to do with Trump?

Georgia Badonsky, Investigative Journalist

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Anyone who has listened to the news for the past two years is bound to have heard about the Mueller investigation at least once. In summary:  The FBI was privately investigating the Trump campaign during the summer before the 2016 election for its ties to a hostile foreign government and didn’t disclose anything to the public until March of 2017 when the director of the FBI, James Comey, publicly confirmed it.

People throughout the country have heard about the investigation, but many don’t know what it’s about. People don’t realize the importance of it and how it may affect them; they somehow seem to overlook the fact that the President of the U.S.’s administration is being investigated by the FBI. The investigation is extremely important because it will affect how politicians campaign in the future, the serious problems we face today in our government, and how they are influenced by both foreign and domestic threats.

During May of 2017 Trump fired James Comey and on Wednesday, May 17 of 2017 Rod Rosenstein (who is the U.S. deputy attorney general and is in charge of the investigation) appointed Robert Swan Mueller III as special counsel. On the same day that Mueller was appointed, he made his first and only one public comment: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

Mueller was tasked with investigating Trump’s administration for “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

So far “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has indicted or gotten guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies” The group consists of “four former Trump advisers, 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer. Six of these people (including now all four former Trump aides) have pleaded guilty.”

The most recent indictment that has resulted in a plea deal was of Paul John Manafort Jr, who joined the Trump campaign on March 28, 2016, and was eventually promoted to campaign chairman. Besides his duties on the Trump campaign, he was a lobbyist, lawyer, and political consultant.

On October 30, 2017, Manafort was indicted , on 12 counts including, money laundering,  committing tax fraud, failure to file foreign bank account, “violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act,”  “lie to the Department of Justice,” and “conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses while on pretrial release.”

From at least 2006 to 2017, Manafort, through companies he ran, acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and foreign political parties. He was an agent for the Ukrainian government specifically during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who served from 2010 to 2014 and ran the “Party of Regions”. The “Party of Regions” was a pro-Russian political party that started in 1997 in Ukraine. Later in 2014, after Yanukovych fled he represented the “Opposition Bloc,” which was the successor the “Party of Regions.” Manafort gained tens of millions of dollars with his co-conspirator Gates through their work with the Ukrainian government They then proceeded to hide this income by not reporting any of their income to the U.S. government and not filing any taxes.

Manafort then used his influence as a prominent businessman and lobbyist to persuade the U.S. government and others into more of a pro-Russian/Ukrainian standpoint.

On September 14, 2018, Manafort accepted the plea deal offered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that would make him “plead guilty in the above-captioned case to all elements of all objects of all the charges in a Superseding Criminal Information,” but would protect him from all criminal charges brought against him in the future.

A portion of the plea deal  states, “upon the completion of full cooperation as described herein and fulfillment of all the other obligations herein, no additional criminal charges will be brought against the defendant for his heretofore discussed participation in criminal activity, including money laundering, false statements, personal and corporate tax and FBAR offenses, bank fraud, Foreign Agents Registration Act violations for his work in Ukraine, and obstruction of justice. In addition, subject to the terms of this Agreement, at the time of sentence or at the completion of his successful cooperation, whichever is later, the Government will move to dismiss the remaining counts of the Indictment.”

The most important piece of the plea deal could be the fact that by signing and accepting the deal he will only gain the benefits of having a maximum of ten years in prison, but only if he cooperates with the special counsel fully and completely, which could spell trouble for Trump.

Trump has, of course, the obvious connections with Manafort and anyone who can put two and two together, has pretty solid ground to base any speculation on Trump or suspect him of some wrongdoing.

But Trump seems unfazed by such reports, in fact,  he’s only expressed sympathy for Manafort by saying he feels bad about Manafort’s downfall and believes that he should not be worried because he has done nothing wrong.

Trump said, “Paul Manafort was with me for a short period of time. He did a good job. I was, you know, very happy with the job he did,” Trump later said. “And I will tell you this: I believe that he will tell the truth and if he tells the truth, no problem.” Again not seeming to be upset with Manafort, complementing Manafort and than adding again that he is not worried.

He has also expressed frustration about how the investigation has gone underway. Apparently, he is shocked about the focus of the investigation has changed, saying, “It has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion…This has nothing to do with what they started out…looking for Russians involved in our campaign… there were none.”

But it does not seem likely that Trump will remain so positive and seemingly unworried about the investigation after the midterm elections when Mueller is supposedly going to make his first public statement about the investigation.

In the past, for example, Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, who had worked for him since 2006, was fired in May of 2018. At the beginning of Cohen’s process and before the investigation. Trump seemed to have no problem praising Cohen saying that he was “a fine person with a wonderful family” and that he had  “always liked and respected.” Trump also defended him by saying that “The New York Times and a third-rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie [reference to one of Hillary Clinton’s “minions”] who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’”

This was all said before Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of crimes and implicated that Trump paid two women to keep quiet after having sex with them during the 2016 presidential campaign. A day after Cohen had said this, Trump went on a Twitter rant blasting insults at Cohen: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

He even went as far as to compare Cohen with Manafort, who had been convicted literally the day before, saying, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!”

Because of how Trump in the past has switched sides whenever something doesn’t go his way, his switching of viewpoints can be expected in this case. Most likely we can expect a message of anger from Trump on Manafort and how he switched sides or made up lies to help the “crooked democrats” agenda.

But to some people, this may all be seen as Trump’s way of freaking out or expressing fear for the future. If you think about what the plea deals mean, both Cohen and Manafort were very important and crucial to Trump’s campaign as well as had a lot of influence in it. By basically promising to the special counsel to tell everything that they know about the case and the pressure of the upcoming midterms, Trump might be becoming increasingly worried.

But how exactly could Manafort have influenced the Trump campaign or have benefited Trump in any way? Well, that’s simple: it was his job.

As a lobbyist, companies and organizations paid Manafort to persuade another organization or group of people to have a better viewpoint of the company Manafort was lobbying for, but for it to be legal he had to disclose it to the government. He would also have to disclose any foreign lobbying to the government, which he did not do.

An example of lobbying would be if Manafort was hired by Company A to make Company B sell a majority of its stock to Company A (which might result in a negative result for Company B’s future). Manafort than gives Company B a large donation or gift and persuades them to sell their stock even if before they were extremely against doing so. Company A would then pay Manafort with a rather large amount of money.

Now lobbying has been going on for centuries. One party giving another party a gift in exchange for the other party to do something that would benefit the first party is not a new thing. The only rather “new” part about lobbying would be the laws surrounding it.

Now you might think, why do we need to have laws about lobbying if it only affects businesses? Well, the answer to that question would be that lobbying is extremely dangerous if not managed, and politicians use it frequently.

One of the best examples of lobbyists affecting the government would be a law that the Senate tried to pass in 1976. After the Watergate Scandal, the Senate tried to pass stricter laws that would affect lobbying, but due to “intensive lobbying pressure,” but it wasn’t able to pass the house. This can be seen as a huge problem, especially considering the fact that independent companies can influence our government’s decisions.

Carmen Simons, a junior, saw it as a “huge problem for our democracy,” in which he commented on how over time court decisions and laws have made our government an “environment where money is so integral to politics.”

He also added that it is “really damaging to American credibility and our entire political structure.”

But back to the question at hand, how could Manafort have affected or benefited the Trump campaign?

For many years Manafort lobbied on behalf of a Ukrainian president Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, and later moved on to a different party after the president fled in the U.S. influencing people and politicians.“Manafort’s extensive ties to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, Russian president Vladimir Putin would almost certainly have had detailed knowledge of Manafort’s transgressions.” Meaning that Manafort very well may have worked with Trump and used the fact that Trump was a rich businessman and had an influence in politics to help the Ukraine pro-Russian parties.

Trump also could have collaborated with Manafort in a much more covert way, using Manafort’s companies and influence as well as Ukrainian money to help tip and persuade the polls in a way that would shed more positive light on his campaign. But these are all just ideas and speculations well have to wait until after the midterms for any more news.

After the midterms are over, Mueller will be making his first public statement about the investigation, which can go a number of ways.

Depending on Mueller’s statement and what he found out, different situations can be played out. Let’s assume that Mueller did find serious dirt on Trump. Then we were left with two major possibilities (whether or not Trump receives nothing more than a slap on the wrist). Nonetheless, it all depends on really the House majority and the political climate.  

Because Democrats are leaning more towards impeachment or some sort of punishment and would have control over both houses for the rest of Trump’s term, he will most likely get nothing accomplished that he deems necessary for the betterment of our country.

But then again impeachment might not be the key to improving the country and removing those who have no right to be in power from power. Though impeachment seems like it will solve most of the problems with Trump and his administration, impeachment is a grueling process that would further divide the country and allow other influences and people who do not have the betterment of American society in mind rise to power.

Impeachment might also not even lead to the removal of Trump, “ it is only a formal statement of charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law, and is thus only the first step towards removal. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction via legislative vote, which then entails the removal of the individual from office.”

Kenneth Starr, who authored the Starr report which was an account of the Clinton investigation which led to former Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said when asked if impeachment should happen: “I hope not because one of the lessons in the book is impeachment is hell. The country should not be taken through that.”

On the flip side of things, if the Republicans remain in power Trump will most likely not have to face any consequences no matter what comes out of the investigation. Because the Republicans are trying to hold onto as much power as possible. They most likely will defend Trump and try to keep him in power.

Unfortunately, this just goes to show how much Trump can get away with. If anyone else had said as many disgusting, racist, sexist violent things they would not have been able to succeed in gaining the highest office of power. The fact that we can assume that our president is guilty of obstructing justice and has an FBI investigation on his campaign is enough to set off smoke alarms. Not only that, what’s worse is that unless there is a drastic change in the Senate and the house he will most likely get away with it. He has already nominated a man who has multiple accusations of sexual assault against him to the Supreme Court of the United States. But for that man to be confirmed and then have people apologize to him for his treatment during the process is disgusting.

People need to realize the gravity of the situation and how much power Trump has at the moment with almost no one to help regulate and control his crazy decisions. People tend to laugh or make fun of Trump for the way he speaks, looks, and how little he knows about anything. But this distracts from the point that he is the most powerful person in the country and has already made threats and said he would do things that would limit our rights and discriminate against people.

People who are transgender won’t be permitted in the military. Women are being targeted by taking away almost all access to abortion clinics, and by reversing Roe V Wade. There are racist robocalls targeting a black gubernatorial candidate in Florida. Not to mention the three hate crimes that occurred in one week against, black and Jewish people as well as against Democrats and news agencies that have spoken against Trump.

Our democracy could be in danger if we don’t do something soon. People are not allowed to vote because of out of control voter suppression inflicted on minorities by Republicans who want to prevent as many people as possible from voting. They do this to people who don’t usually vote for them. If we do not vote and do not fight for the right of everyone to vote than there is no possibility of defending democracy in our country and making sure that people who are in power that discriminate and create laws that target specific groups of people or disobey the law in any way are punished.

No one should be able to gain enough power that puts them above the law.

About the Writer
Georgia Badonsky, Investigative Journalist

Georgia Badonsky is a freshman at the NYC iSchool. She loves reading and music, and is interested in politics. She also enjoys going to museums and hanging...

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What Do Manafort and Mueller have to do with Trump?