Just The Beginning: Paul Manafort, Trump’s Former Campaign Chairman, Convicted On 8 Counts
Paul Manafort, former Trump Campaign Chairman, is now a convicted felon.
Manafort was found guilty on 8 counts (5 tax fraud, 2 bank fraud, and 1 of hiding foreign accounts), with verdicts unable to be reached for the remaining 10 counts. Manafort is 69 years old and faces up to 80 years in prison for these convictions.
— Christal Hayes (@Journo_Christal) August 21, 2018
Judge Ellis, who has faced allegations of bias in this trial, declared a mistrial on those 10 counts after the jurors couldn’t come to a consensus.
Manafort is the fifth Trump associate to be guilty of felony charges during the Trump presidency. Trump’s former personal lawyer (and RNC deputy finance chair) Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to 8 counts that include bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations just today. They join former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Manafort’s total felony charges were at 24, with the remaining to be tried in an upcoming DC trial in September.
One of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s objectives in his investigation has long been to flip Paul Manafort into a cooperating witness. But many have speculated that Manafort has not cooperated because he awaits a Trump pardon.
So, what does this indictment mean? To grasp its significance, we have to dive into Manafort’s past.
Here’s A Quick Primer
Paul Manafort was originally forced out of the Trump campaign after reports of his foreign ties began to overwhelm Trump in late 2016. He worked on the campaign as an unregistered foreign agent. He finally registered in June 2017, but it was too late.
In November 2017, Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were slapped with a 31-page, 12-count indictment. Those counts included laundering $18 million of the $75 million dollars they made acting as unregistered foreign agents while lobbying on behalf of the Government of Ukraine between 2006–2016 and making false statements to the Justice Department. Both Manafort and Gates pleaded “Not Guilty” at the time. Gates later pleaded guilty and began cooperating with Mueller. Even after his subsequent superseding indictment, a Manafort plea deal remained elusive.
A federal judge in June revoked his bail and ordered his confinement after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s superseding indictment accused Paul Manafort of witness tampering. Mueller then issued his second superseding indictment for Manafort. It also targeted Manafort’s longtime Russian-Ukrainian aide (from his Ukraine lobbying days) Konstantin Kilimnik. The charges in the superseding indictment include obstruction of justice, citing Manafort and Kilimnik’s witness tampering when trying to influence the testimony of two public-relations executives connected to their lobbying work.
Kilimnik worked for Manafort for a decade and served as his right-hand man, helping Manafort run his operation in Ukraine. Kilimnik is of interest due to his ties to Russian intelligence, 2016 contacts with Manafort, and his role in pushing pro-Russia policies onto the Republican platform. As The Atlantic put it in their excellent profile of Kilimnik: “Donald Trump’s campaign chairman had a pawn of Russian intelligence as his indispensable alter ego.”
So what does Manafort know? We’ve since learned that Paul Manafort was wiretapped via FISA surveillance in 2014 as part of an investigation into Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. It was discontinued and then reinstated in 2016 after investigators caught a series of odd connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The surveillance reportedly continued into early 2017 and involved conversations with Donald Trump. Intelligence gathered reportedly “includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign.”
It’s been reported that two weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination, Paul Manafort offered “private briefings” on the state of the 2016 election to Russian Oligarch, and close Putin ally, Oleg Deripaska (who also has ties to Kilimnik). Manafort reportedly met twice with Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign. A Kiev operative suggested that Kilimnik may have played a role in the Trump campaign’s gutting of anti-Russian stances from the Republican Party platform. Kilimnik also sent emails regarding Deripaska, and they met in August to speak on it.
Manafort reportedly began his work as a lobbyist and political consultant for Yanukovych in 2004 upon the advice of Deripaska. Manafort also reportedly had a $10 million a year contract with Oleg Deripaska. The contract was part of a plan to assert pro-Russia influence in U.S. politics and lasted from 2006–2009. Paul Manafort moved into Trump Tower in 2006. Before this, Manafort innovated what we now know as modern lobbying with Roger Stone. Who knew that the industry he helped build would bring him down.
Manafort’s involvement in the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer and self-described informant), and Russian operatives is also of interest to Mueller. We now know the meeting was in an effort to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, admitted by Trump himself and Rudy Giuliani. Michael Cohen has reportedly claimed that then-candidate Trump approved the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting ahead of time. This would have wide-ranging consequences if Cohen were to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as well.
Investigators are reportedly reviewing Manafort’s notes of the meeting which “contained the words ‘donations,’ and ‘RNC’ in close proximity.” According to NBC News, congressional investigators who are examining the meeting are “focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.”
Federal law, Section 30121 of Title 52, states that it is a crime for a foreign national to contribute money or other items of value to an American election, as well as making it illegal for an American to solicit such a contribution.
Clearly, if Manafort flipped, it would be of great benefit to Robert Mueller’s investigation and great detriment to Donald Trump.
Manafort’s choice appears to be cooperate, receive a pardon for his federal crimes, or spend the rest of his life in prison.