The World At Home - Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2018-01-15 16:30:00 -


I closed my final column of 2017 by speculating that in spite of President Donald Trump’s strong support, Roy Moore’s election defeat in the Alabama Senate race would revive the debate about the sexual misconduct allegations made by 19 women against the president himself. Indeed, Summer Zervos, who claims Trump sexually assaulted her when she was a contestant on US TV’s The Apprentice in 2007, has already filed a defamation lawsuit in New York accusing him of making false statements about her during his 2016 Presidential campaign while he was denying her accusations.


President Trump’s lawyers are attempting to quash the Zervos lawsuit by claiming state judges don’t have jurisdiction to preside over lawsuits against the president due to the US Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. But based on legal precedents involving Presidents Nixon and Clinton, most legal scholars claim that Trump would have to defend himself in court over transgressions that happened before he became president.


Yet President Trump’s civil legal issues will be of less concern to him and his lawyers in the coming year than the ongoing investigation into his presidential campaign’s contacts with Russia. 


Despite their claims that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, President Trump and his legal team are worried that criminal charges may be brought against him and/or members of his family. That explains why they have begun attacking the credibility of campaign manager Paul Manafort and former general national security advisor Michael Flynn, as well as FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigators.


President Trump’s lawyers and his family are probably much more concerned about the Mueller investigation’s probe of Trump Organization finances prior to his election than they are about any links with Russia. Last July, when Trump and his lawyers discovered that Mueller was also looking into a series of financial transactions and business deals dating back more than 20 years, they reacted swiftly. Trump said this was crossing a red line and his lawyer, John Dowd, claimed this went “well beyond the mandate of the special counsel”.


But what precisely are President Trump and his family so worried about? Let’s start with Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates. During the course of his investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mueller discovered that Manafort and Gates had conspired to launder money and hide the overseas payments they had received while working on behave of Russia’s puppet, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. But these charges were actually an outgrowth of then Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into money laundering that began early in 2016. Mueller absorbed this inquiry into his own probe after Bharra was fired by President Trump in March. After Manafort and Gates were charged with 12 counts of conspiracy, lying to investigators, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, money laundering and tax evasion, President Trump then tried to distance himself from Manafort by tweeting: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”


Of more concern to the Trump family and their lawyers, however, are the guilty pleas and agreements to co-operate that Mueller has extracted from Flynn and from former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos pled guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his attempts to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. A month later, Flynn also agreed to co-operate and plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey I Kislyak.


President Trump asked then FBI chief James Comey to go easy on Flynn, and went out of his way to praise Flynn on numerous occasions after he was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with Kislyak. Flynn was trying to encourage Russia to not retaliate against the US for the Obama administration’s sanctions. But this conversation was illegal because it is a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from “influencing the measures or conduct of any foreign government” or “defeating the measures of the United States.”


While it is still possible that President Trump might pardon Flynn, Trump’s lawyers seem to be preparing to brand him as a liar should he allege that Trump either knew of or directed him to engage with the Russian ambassador prior to his inauguration. There is also some concern that Papadopoulos and/or Flynn might finger the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the senior campaign official who directed them to conduct secret diplomacy with the Russians. But the pre-inauguration contacts with the Russians are not evidence of collusion. So what is?


Mueller appears to be building a case against President Trump and/or some members of his family and inner circle based on three decades of financial dealings, including Russian mob purchases of apartments in Trump Tower and real estate transactions and branding deals involving Russian oligarchs. Mueller is also looking into the hundreds of millions in loans the Trump Organization received from Deutsche Bank when no other banks in America or Europe would extend a credit line after his numerous bankruptcies. Deutsche Bank recently paid a $630m fine for failing to prevent $10bn in Russian money laundering. But was President Trump one of their recipients? Stay tuned…

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.


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