The World At Home: Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2018-07-10 14:14:34 -
Opinion
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By Charles Laffiteau

I predicted last time that more plea deals were coming, and indeed the latest involves a business associate and former son-in-law of erstwhile Trump advisor Paul Manafort, which only recently came to light. Jeffrey Yohai, who divorced Manafort’s daughter last year, was apparently under investigation in California over real estate construction loans and for misusing his bank account.

 

Los Angeles federal prosecutor Andrew Brown began an investigation of Yohai’s real estate and financial transactions early in 2017, several months before Robert Mueller was appointed as the special counsel in the Russian election interference investigation. In June 2017, just a month after Mueller took over, he sent a team of prosecutors to Yohai in Los Angeles to probe Manafort’s multi-million-dollar real estate loans and his relationship with Trump, as well as Manafort’s links with various Russian oligarchs.

 

In February this year, Yohai entered into a plea agreement with Brown whereby Yohai plead guilty to one count of misusing construction loan funds and a second count involving bank overdrafts. But Yohai was also an investor with Manafort in some properties in New York and four properties in Los Angeles that went bankrupt. So even though Yohai’s plea deal is with Mr. Brown in Los Angeles, the agreement stipulates that Yohai must assist Mueller in his prosecution of Manafort for bank fraud and lobbying illegally on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political leader.

 

Much like Mueller’s previously announced plea agreements with Manafort’s longtime business partner Rick Gates, and Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, the underlying reason for the plea deal with Yohai is to ratchet up the legal pressure on Manafort. But if Mueller is putting pressure on Manafort in the hope of him accepting a plea deal, what kind of evidence of Russian collusion does Mueller believe Manafort can provide? Furthermore, if Manafort believes that US President Donald Trump will eventually pardon him, why would he ever be willing to testify against him?

 

As for the kind of evidence Manafort could provide Mueller, if there were any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, then Manafort is the campaign official most likely to know about it. Why? Because Manafort was the one with the most numerous and longest standing ties to Russian nationals connected with Russia’s intelligence agencies. Lest we forget, Manafort was also present at Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer to gather dirt on Hillary Clinton.

 

Even if one buys the idea that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, does anyone seriously believe that Manafort would testify to that fact? Unlike Gates, Papadopoulos and Flynn, instead of merely lying to the FBI, Manafort is facing some 25 felony charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. Manafort is also sitting in jail while he awaits trial because he and his primary Russian associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, asked a Mueller witness to change their testimony.

 

On the one hand, if Manafort provided Mueller with information that implicated Russian intelligence or political officials, wouldn’t Manafort then have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for Russian government assassins carrying nerve agents? On the other, if Manafort were to testify that President Trump was aware of and or approved collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian intelligence operatives, could he still expect a presidential pardon?

 

While it is possible that Manafort wasn’t involved in any collusion with the Russians, or has no knowledge of any collusion between Trump or his campaign staff and Russia, I seriously doubt it. I firmly believe the only reason why Manafort is willing to sit in jail until his trial begins on 24 July is because he is also waiting for a pardon from President Trump. Manafort is certain of this because John Dowd, Trump’s Russia investigation lawyer, discussed a pardon with Manafort’s lawyer last fall, while Trump’s current lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also mentioned it recently.

 

Many observers also believe that President Trump was sending a none-too-subtle message to both Manafort and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, with his most recent pardons of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff Scooter Libby and right-wing filmmaker Dinesh D’Sousa. In 2007, Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation of his politically motivated leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. D’Sousa, meanwhile, is a right-wing conspiracy theorist who was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions in 2012.

 

Unlike past presidents who relied on recommendations from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, President Trump grants pardons based on political considerations. If you are a Trump supporter (like Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D’Sousa) or a favourite of Trump’s supporters (Scooter Libby), then you stand an excellent chance of getting a pardon. And because the president’s power to pardon is absolute, it also makes Trump feel like the emperor he wishes he were.

 

But despite Trump’s hints about presidential pardons for those who demonstrate their loyalty, Michael Cohen recently replaced his attorney with Guy Petrillo, a former prosecutor who is known for negotiating plea deals for his clients. It makes one wonder what Cohen knows about Trump.

 

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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