Tragedy at Tree of Life

At 10:00 am on Saturday, October 27, 2018, a gunman opened fire during a shabbat service at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After several people barricaded inside the building and called the authorities, the shooter fired at police officers upon their arrival after he was detained in 2 confrontations. 11 people are now dead while 6 others were injured, including 4 police officers. Identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers who carried an assault rifle and 3 semi-automatic handguns, he is now in custody and could be charged with a hate crime as soon as possible. Pittsburgh’s top FBI official said, “this is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” So far, the authorities haven’t yet confirmed any information on the perpetrator’s motive. Since initial eyewitness accounts can turn out to be wrong as the investigation unfolds. Though KDKA has reported that eyewitnesses heard the shooter shout, “All Jews must die” before firing during the morning shabbat service. Still, the shooting may have been the deadliest attack on Jewish people on American soil.

According to preliminary reports, Robert Bowers was an avowed anti-Semite with a number of posts on the far-right social networking site Gab. There, he blamed Jews for among other things, mass migration and climate change. Posts that appeared authored by Bowers include one written about an hour before the shooting stating, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

The Tree of Life shooting comes amid a steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes since the 2016 campaign and Donald Trump’s inauguration. And it represents a further intensification of the resurgence of toxic and at times, violent Anti-Semitism during this time. According to the FBI, in 2016, hate crimes had increased 5% since 2015, and 10% since 2014. And out of the 1,273 hate crimes for which FBI found religious hatred as a motivation which is 20% of the total, half were against Jews. In the last year for which complete data was available, the Anti-Defamation League found there have been 1,986 reported incidents in the United States that year, including acts of vandalism and physical violence. That figure was a 57% increase from 2016, which itself has seen a 35% uptick from 2015. The 2016-17 surge was the highest increase on-record since the ADL began reporting on them in 1979. As the 2016 presidential campaign reached fever pitch, over 800 journalists received a staggering 19,000 anti-Semitic messages on Twitter. During events like the 2017 Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia, right-wing extremists openly recited Nazi slogans and carried Nazi paraphernalia.

Incendiary rhetoric has remained intense throughout 2018. Verbal attacks against liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros whose political activities have become subject to far-right conspiracy theories, have reached fever pitch. In fact, just this month Donald Trump publicly blamed Soros for funding the activist opposition to now-Supreme Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination who’s been accused of multiple sexual assault allegations. More recently, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Campbell’s Soup executive vice president Kelly Johnson blamed Soros for financially supporting the Honduran migrant caravan making its way to the US border, accusing him of being in control of migrants and refugees. Soros was among the recipients of a series of mailed pipe bombs sent to prominent left-wing media outlets and politicians, including the Clintons and the Obamas.

Now I don’t know much about George Soros except he’s a rich old Jewish liberal with lots of money. However, tune into Fox News, and you’ll find plenty of right-wing conspiracy theorists claim that he’s the devil incarnate or the head of the Illuminati or New World Order. Yet, despite that I know full well he can’t be as nearly as terrible as conservative nutjobs make him out to be, rhetoric against Soros reflects a wider trend in anti-Semitic discourse: a conspiracy theory of imagined “globalists” secretly pulling the puppet-strings of the capitalist world order that’s been a populist rhetorical mainstay since at least the European not-so-Enlightenment in the 18th century. According to the Washington Post, Soros’ “name has become a synonym for a well-worn anti-Semitic canard: the idea that Jews are malevolent fomenters of social dissent, agitators slyly funding and masterminding protest, seeking to undermine a white, Christian social order.” Should the Tree of Life’s shooter’s anti-Semitic motivations be confirmed, it would be the culmination of a week of extraordinary right-wing violence.

Tree of Life’s neighborhood of Squirrel Hill is usually considered Pittsburgh’s de facto Jewish community center. While the Tree of Life synagogue represents a powerful symbol of Jewish life. And the recent shooting reflects another disturbing trend such as the degree to which places of worship have been targets for acts of possible domestic terrorism. From synagogues to Christian churches and Sikh temples, these places have increasingly become targets for extremist violence within the last decade. Many of these have been explicitly white supremacist or right-wing in nature, targeting perceived liberals, ethnic minorities, or women. In each case, these attacks have been designed to maximize emotional effect. Since they’re community hubs designed for children, adults, and the elderly. By targeting a house of worship, the attacker commits a powerful symbolic transgression of profaning a sacred and communal space. Attacking a place of worship isn’t just an attack on worshippers but attack on the community itself. Examples include:

2008: Jim David Adkisson opened fire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a community theater production of Annie. He killed 2 and wounded 7 others. Citing Unitarian progressive policies, Adkisson later told police he did so because he believed the Democrats were “ruining” the United States and that all liberals should be killed. He pled guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

2012: An avowed white supremacists and Army veteran Wade Michael Page attack a gurdwaras or Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He killed 6 people and wounded 4 more before killing himself. A longtime member of the white power music scene, Page had been on federal investigators’ radar for years before committing this deadly act.

2015: White supremacist Dylann Roof murdered 9 members of the congregation along with the senior pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof had written frequently and publicly about his desire to kill non-whites as he wrote in his prison journal, “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.” Since his 2017 conviction, Roof is currently on death row.

2017: Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at First Baptist Church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 in the deadliest church shooting in American history. Unlike the other perpetrators, Kelley didn’t have clearly defined political views or a specific agenda. But he did have a history of domestic violence which included fracturing his infant stepson’s skull in 2012. While the shooting precipitated by conflict with his mother-in-law who attended First Baptist. Kelley was killed during the attack.

Anyway, the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue is another indication that we must acknowledge that homegrown, right-wing, domestic terrorism is huge problem in the United States. While the 2008 election of Barack Obama as well as 2007 and 2008 economic collapses have created fertile ground for hateful, right-wing extremism. Despite the outrage of the conservative news crowd over the prophetic 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, we’ve had extremists occupy federal land in Oregon, pipe bombs mailed to Democratic Party leaders, and commit mass shootings targeting minority groups. Sure Fox News will coddle their old white conservative viewers by assuring that they’re okay and that everything is fine with white conservative America as long as certain outgroups don’t get their way. Despite that the Republican Party has sold their souls to Donald Trump. While Trump continues to pander to right-wing extremists and white supremacists as well as inspire and incite violence at his rallies and tweets. And yet, when it comes to properly labeling domestic terrorism as terrorism, the right-wing conspiracy theory mad cable news network is hardly outside the mainstream. Since all 24-hour news are reluctant rattle the status quo cages too much. Since a cable news network needs you to keep watching and will make sure to keep you glued to your TV by not suggesting that the US is rife with right-wing extremist terror. Despite the fact it totally is. Why? For one, they don’t want to alienate conservative viewers who might meet such notions with an all-consuming outrage. At the same time, they don’t want to stir liberal viewers in to activism that goes far beyond watching TV. And in our current American landscape, TV news is king. There are certainly good-faith arguments against label this kind of violence terrorism which mostly have to do with waiting for the FBI to issue that label, or the fact that terrorism definitions usually involve some organized, radicalized sect than lone wolf operators inspired by YouTube, Fox News, or Trump.

However, homegrown, right-wing domestic terrorism isn’t going away any time soon. Donald Trump keeps using incendiary rhetoric encouraging violence against vulnerable people. Though he’d strongly condemn the Pittsburgh attack and anti-Semitism, Trump has failed to do so at other key points in his presidency, particularly the racist violence in Charlottesville last year. Besides, for week, Trump has been stocking fears about the migrant caravan, because his appeal to his supporters is based on fear of immigrants and racial minorities. And because he doesn’t take responsibility for anything, Trump blames the media for fueling political divisions and hate in America and for unfairly casting him as a contributor to the current situation. Despite that Trump has made extremist right-wing views more acceptable in the Republican Party. As long as Republicans keep backing Trump up and refuse to acknowledge the clear and present danger of right-wing extremism within the US, domestic terror incidents will only increase and intensify, especially since they won’t support gun control.

Which brings me to another point. If we want to prevent mass shootings and acts of terror in the United States, then we need to enact strict gun restrictions. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has enacted a measure to keep firearms out of the hands of known domestic abusers. After all, mass shooters usually had a history of domestic abuse so it’s a step in the right direction. But state and local gun restrictions can only go so far. After all, while Chicago may have strict gun laws, its rate of gun violence is high. Mostly because many of the guns used to commit crimes are coming from outside its borders. So federal action is sorely needed. For if we don’t enact sensible gun laws to keep firearms out of criminals’ hands, we will see more mass shootings in the future.

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Born in a Golden Cradle

We all know full well how Donald Trump repeatedly paints his start in business as an up-by-the bootstraps, riches-to-slightly-more-riches tale. He’s cast himself as a New York real estate Oliver Twist with only his name and a $1 million loan from his dear old dad to keep him company. Only to become a self-made billionaire real estate mogul. Trump not only used this description to promote his image as a skilled businessman, but also portray himself as a “self-made man” during his presidential candidacy.

Despite the image Donald Trump projects to his base at his ego boosting rallies, he has actually spent 5 decades pretending not only that his father never rescued him from financial dire straits, but played a minimal role in his business success. When he said that Fred only gave him a $1 million loan, Trump glossed over how central his dad was to his career. When Trump entered the Manhattan real estate business in the mid-1970s, Fred cosigned bank loans for tens of millions of dollars. These loans made it possible for Trump to develop early projects like the Grand Hyatt hotel. When he targeted Atlantic City’s casino market, Fred loaned him about $7.5 million to get started. When he floundered there during the 1990s, Fred sent a lawyer to a Trump casino to buy $3.5 million in chips so his son can use the funds for a bond payment and avoid filing for corporate bankruptcy. In other words, Trump’s wealth has always been “deeply intertwined with, and dependent on” on his father’s wealth.

On Tuesday, October 2, 2018, the New York Times published investigation results into Donald Trump’s wealth and tax practices. They revealed a pattern of tax evasion and business practices that allowed him to receive at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. According to the report, Trump and his siblings got hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s money from their dad’s real estate empire, starting from their childhoods. As they write:

“Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.”

In sum, Donald Trump’s parents transferred more than $1 billion to their children and paid about $52.2 million in taxes. Given the relevant tax rates on gifts and inheritances, they should’ve paid $550 million, which is 10 times more. The IRS didn’t really notice it. While the Times didn’t see Trump’s own tax returns, their reporting was based on documents, records, and interviews pertaining to Fred Trump’s financial empire. These included, “tens of thousands of pages of confidential records — bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices and canceled checks” along with more than 200 tax returns from Fred and various companies and trusts he set up. Even though he can’t be prosecuted for them due to statute of limitations expiration, evidence suggests that Donald’s actions on paying taxes weren’t always above the fray.

When Donald Trump’s finances were “crumbling” during the 1980s and 1990s, Fred Trump’s companies increased distributions to him and his siblings. From 1989-1992, Fred created 4 entities paying Donald $8.3 million in today’s money. When Donald’s finances were at their worst in 1990, Fred’s income shot up $49,638,928 and earned him a $12.2 million tax bill. According to the New York Times report, there are indications Fred, “wanted plenty of cash on hand to bail out his son if need be.” A former Trump Organization told Tim O’Brien in 2005, “We would have literally closed down. The key would have been in the door and there would have been no more Donald Trump. The family saved him.” Of course, it wasn’t really Trump’s family who saved him from personal bankruptcy, it was his dad. On another occasion, Trump allegedly gave his dad a $15.5 million share of the Trump Palace condo skyscraper in New York to square off some debts with his loans. But Fred then sold the shares back to his son for $10,000, making the whole exchange of $15.49 a taxable gift. Fred never declared it as such.
But it wasn’t always rich dad bailing out his son. Fred and Donald Trump worked together. As the elder man aged, his kids had to continue the tax schemes their parents put in place. In 1997, Donald and his siblings gained control of most of their dad’s empire. They significantly undervalued the properties, claiming they were worth $41.4 million and selling them off for 16 times the amount.

Nonetheless, the wealth transfer between Fred Trump and Donald Trump (along with his siblings) was a lifetime affair. As the New York Times notes:

“By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.”

As the Times writes, there’s a fine line between tax evasion and tax avoidance. Rich people employ all kinds of tricks to lower their taxes all the time. But since Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, these journalistic investigations raise questions of what he’s hiding in his finances. For what the publication doesn’t have is what the American people have become accustomed to getting from their presidents like recent tax returns. Instead, the Times gave close scrutiny Fred Trump’s businesses which reveal the range of apparent illegal activity. Yet, everything the Times has is fairly old since Fred passed nearly 20 years ago while his years in business ended before that. So they no longer reflect the current state of Trump’s financial affairs. Furthermore, any illegal activity the Times sources revealed in this article can’t be prosecuted due to statute of limitations expiration.

The New York Times’ investigation is exhaustive and, to some extent, defies summary. But it’s worth recounting the most egregious thing they found as an illustrative example of the scope of crimes that serious forensic accounting can reveal. Basically, this was a 2-scams-for-the-price-of-one-caper, in which Fred Trump formed a shell company his children secretly owned. The company pretended to perform useful services for rent-stabilized buildings Fred owned, allowing to gift money to his children without paying a gift tax. Then, its bogus accounting was used to justify rent increases to regulators. As the Times wrote:

“The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.”
This is a particularly shocking crime because of the way it was used to defraud thousands of tenants as well as tax authorities. But this wasn’t the only time Fred cheated the public. After all, he got his start in profiteering in millions from programs to help returning GIs receive housing, prompting President Dwight D. Eisenhower to throw a fit. In 1954, he was called before the Senate to testify about how he overcharged the federal government by inflating costs associated with a taxpayer-subsidized housing development in Brooklyn. As a result, Fred was banned from bidding on federal housing contracts. So he focused on state-subsidized projects. However, in 1966, Fred was called before a state investigations board to sit through embarrassing public hearings exploring how he overbilled New York State for equipment and other costs. These hearings essentially marked the end of Fred’s career as a major developer in public subsidized housing. Donald Trump would say that the government essentially reached in and took his dad’s business away from him. But this explanation ignores the fact that Fred’s business wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without government subsidies in the first place.

However, in terms of Donald Trump cheating on his taxes, it’s far from unique. In 1983, he’s admitted to sales tax fraud. He’s lost 2 income tax civil fraud trials. Hell, his own tax lawyer testified that Trump’s 1984 tax return was fraudulent. More strikingly, even before the Times’ investigation, we had numerous examples of Trump operating as a habitual criminal. While Trump would like to American people to forget about this, he got his start as a celebrity after the New York Times published an article detailing federal housing discrimination charges brought against him and his father. Ultimately, the charges were settled without admission of fault, which would be a pattern for Trump over the years. Even so, the fact his first foray into the real estate business involved criminal acts didn’t stop him from continuing in that business. When Trump branched out into casinos, he got caught accepting an illegal loan from his dad to stay afloat and got off with a slap on the wrist. He was even allowed to continue with the business as well.

From empty-box tax scam to money laundering at his casinos, racial discrimination in his apartments, Federal Trade Commission violations for his stock purchases, and Securities and Exchange Commission violations for his financial reporting, Donald Trump has spent his entire career breaking various laws, getting caught, and then essentially plowing ahead unharmed. Caught engaging in illegal racial discrimination to please a mob boss? Paid a fine. There was no sense this was a repeated pattern of violating racial discrimination law (despite being caught before in a housing discrimination case by the federal government). Nor there was certainly any desire to take a closer look at Trump’s various personal and professional connections to the Mafia. In New York, Trump Tower’s construction employed hundreds of undocumented Polish immigrants, paid them laughably low wages, and worked them beyond legal limits. Though Trump denied knowledge of the situation, a judge said his testimony wasn’t credible. Court records show that Trump and his children misled investors in failed condo projects in Baja California and Florida. Even as late as the post-election transition, Trump was allowed to settle a lawsuit about defrauding customers at his fake university for $25 million rather than truly face the music like a potential prison term. But he still insisted he did nothing wrong despite evidence to the contrary.

One of Donald Trump’s real insights in life was to see a bug in the system. When it comes to these white-collar crimes, it’s typically the government officials’ interest to agree to a settlement giving them positive headlines, raise some cash, and move on to the next investigation. But while these decisions can make sense individually, they let serial offenders repeat their crimes over and over again. After all, you wouldn’t want police to solve other crimes this way. Meanwhile, throughout the decades of Trump’s rise, the legal climate has only gotten more permissive.

The fact that Donald Trump appears to have been involved in serious financial crimes in the past is the most likely reason for his unprecedented lack of transparency. He didn’t magically stop committing them in the mid-1990s. Rather he’s just been getting away with it in an era of reduced law enforcement and fears his documents wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. As a candidate, Trump promised to release his tax returns. Now that he’s in office, he has refused to do so. In response to the Times’ investigation, the White House released a statement full of bluster about the “wonderful” things Trump has achieved as president. But it didn’t deny any of the alleged facts. Instead, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders merely observed that “many decades ago the IRS reviewed and signed off on these transactions.”

It’s not entirely clear if the IRS reviewed all of these transactions. But it’s unquestionably true that Donald Trump got away with it. Because lots of people get away with a lot of crimes and that doesn’t make it okay. The IRS is no more perfect in its work than any other law enforcement agency. To make matters worse, the IRS has been starved of resources, making it even harder to catch rich tax cheats. To be clear, this wasn’t caused by austerity by budgetary necessity. Based on macroeconomic estimates, the IRS believes that business owners like Donald Trump underpay their taxes by $125 million a year. Investing more in catching these tax cheats would pay off easily. But congressional Republicans haven’t wanted to do it because they think it’s good that rich business owners can get away with cheating on their taxes. Yet, this also gives tax-cheating businesses a very good reason to fear transparency and disclosure. While the IRS is relatively unlikely to get a hard, rigorous look at any particularly rich person’s complicated tax submissions. But since Trump is president, he’d find Congress and the press heavily scrutinizing his finances. Trump got away with tax evasion during an era of generally more rigorous enforcement. It’s very unlikely that he simply stopped doing it during the more recent years when enforcement got laxer. If he disclosed his tax returns, we’d find out about the scams he’s running. Because that’s why Trump doesn’t want us to see them. And why we absolutely need to. We won’t really know why Donald Trump hides his tax returns until he stops concealing them. But the New York Times’ investigation sends a clear message that he’s got a track record of doing illegal stuff with his taxes.

However, though Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns as president, Congress can make him. But congressional Republicans have steadfastly refused to do so. Nonetheless, the American people have a right to know whether or not the man in the White House is a crook. Though the case for oversight became stronger once Trump became president, Republicans who once distanced themselves from him became uniformly devoted to covering up for him. In addition, Republicans have totally resisted Democratic efforts to force disclosure.

While congressional Republicans may tell themselves these returns are no big deal, they have no idea how serious the crimes are they’re helping Donald Trump hide. Mostly because Republicans decided it’s good when rich people cheat on their taxes despite that it’s not. In fact, cheating on taxes contributes to inequality, higher interest rates, weaker public services, and a range of social news. And despite the Republicans’ best efforts, it’s still illegal. Though the tax code currently has minimal taxes on inheritances and gifts as well as large loopholes for the wealthiest of the wealthy. The New York Times investigation into the Trump family’s wealth demonstrates how wealthy families wiggle out of taxes through licit and illicit means. Thus, starving the government of tax revenue, making the tax code less progressive than it’s designed to be, and effectively increasing the tax burden on low-income families and their businesses. The richer the family, the more likely they engage in tax evasion. In fact, one study shows that the richest .01% were shown to evade 25% of taxes, several times the rate seen among the general public. Because Trump is president, we need to know if he’s been breaking the law. All we need to do is have a congressional committee vote. But to get it, we need a new Congress.

Of course, since I’ve conducted extensive research on Donald Trump since he ran for president, the fact he’s not the self-made man he portrays himself to be doesn’t surprise me. I long knew that he never would’ve become what he is today if he hadn’t been born into wealth and privilege. And I knew about his dad vouching for him on his early projects and helping him out of his financial problems. Yet, millions of Americans still believe Trump as a modern Midas who’d lift them out of hard times as the super-rich flourish while everyone else’s incomes remain mostly flat. But the truth is that the man in the Oval Office isn’t the wealth-building entrepreneur he claims to be. In fact, he’s a financial vampire extracting cash from enterprises while leaving behind unpaid workers, vendors, and governments. And if you want to know what that will lead to, just take a visit to Atlantic City.

The Professor and the Judge

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There are plenty of reason not to want Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. He’s a conservative ideologue masquerading as a judge. He’s a corporate whore who thinks net neutrality violates the cable companies’ freedom of speech. And he’s ruled in favor of corporate power over democracy and the public interest on almost every kind of dispute you can think of. He won’t release 100,000 pages of documents relating to his work for the Bush administration in the 2000s. He’s perfectly fine with disabled people getting elective surgery against their will. He likens contraceptives to abortion inducing drugs which they’re most certainly not. He’s lied under oath on multiple occasions. He has gambling problems as his $200,000 credit card for debt for “baseball tickets.” And he believes that a president shouldn’t be indicted while in office. In sum, he’s a horrible Supreme Court pick in every conceivable way and has absolutely no business in ruling in critical matters that will affect American lives for decades to come.

Now as a Catholic liberal, I may have political misgivings on why Judge Kavanaugh shouldn’t sit on the bench of the US Supreme Court. Yet, most importantly is Kavanaugh’s history with women and his sexual assault allegations. Kavanaugh’s nomination seemed like moving ahead. The New Yorker published an explosive report about a letter California US Senator Dianne Feinstein sent to the FBI but was reluctant to discuss in public. Since she was worried the letter could expose Ford to partisan attacks. Written by a California psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, she said the announcement of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court had spurred her recollection of a party encounter in high school where he held her down to a bed, ground against and groped her, attempted to remove her clothes, and tried to force himself on her, covering her mouth when she tried to scream. Finding it difficult to breathe, she thought Kavanaugh was accidentally going to kill her. Luckily, Ford escaped when Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge jumped on them and the all fell. She fled the room and locked herself in a bathroom until she heard the two boys go downstairs and their voices recede. Terrified she’d run into them and attack again, Ford ran out of the house. But the encounter was “a source of ongoing distress for her” as she remembered Kavanaugh and Judge laughing at her suffering. To put it in layman’s terms, Kavanaugh tried to rape her which has scarred her for life despite that she narrowly got away. This is a violent crime, not sexual misconduct. Though she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17 at the time in the 1980s, she doesn’t remember some key details such as the house they were in. She was on her way to the bathroom when Kavanaugh and Judge attacked and shoved her into a bedroom. Yet, she recalls that everyone had one beer while Kavanaugh and Judge had been drinking more heavily.

Christine Blasey Ford didn’t tell anyone about the allegations with anyone until 2012 during a couples therapy session with her husband. She first reached out to her representative, Rep. Anna Eshoo and directly contacted Feinstein’s office. After repeatedly discussing the matter with both offices, Ford decided not to go public.

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is certainly a hero in this case since her decision to go public with her sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh led others to speak out. Here’s a tweet quoting Deborah Ramirez cheering her on.

On September 16, 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward in a Washington Post story. To corroborate her account, Ford provided the Post with a polygraph and session notes from her therapists from 2012. Though the therapist’s notes don’t name Kavanaugh, they record Ford’s claim being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” Both her husband and a friend have confirmed her claims. He friend told the Los Angeles Times that he’s witnessed the lasting trauma affect her life and her struggle to come forward with him in early July. He claimed that Ford was averse to purchasing a master bedroom without a second exit. According to him, “Obviously, something happened that traumatized her so much that she’s afraid of being trapped.”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had nothing to gain from her testimony on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. For coming forward with sexual assault allegations against powerful men can lead result in losing career and reputation. Ford has received death threats. She’s had to take time off from her job. She and her family were forced out of her home. She’s had to shut down her social media. She’s had to fly all the way from her Bay area home to Washington, which terrified her. She’s had to use therapist notes and pass lie detector tests just to be believed. Not to mention, Republicans have refused to take her story seriously for craven selfish and partisan reasons. While many conservatives have attacked her as an anti-Trump activist whose motives and biases are as suspicious as her Northern California address. At her hearing, Ford had to recall as much as she could remember to come across as credible. As she had to retain her composure describing that painful memory she spent years trying to forget in front of white old men who don’t care what she has to say while feeling like she could fly into an unstoppable rage inside. Nonetheless, he gutting testimony was compelling as her expertise as in clinical psychology shone through her explanations on how trauma works.

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Here’s Brett Kavanaugh’s 1982 yearbook entry from Georgetown Prep. It goes far from the Boy Scout image he’s tried to present at his hearing. More like a partying frat boy you’d want to punch in the face.

Nor is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford the only woman accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Shortly after she came forward, Deborah Ramirez told the New Yorker that in a drinking game during a 1983 dorm party at Yale, Kavanaugh exposed his genitals to her and shoved his penis to her face. All without Ramirez’s consent as she pushed him away. Not long after that, Michael Avenatti published an affidavit signed by Julie Swetnick who claimed attended a parties during high school where Kavanaugh plotted with friends to drug and “gang rape” girls. And that Kavanaugh was present she was gang raped at a party. Yet, she doesn’t explicitly say whether he participated. There are also plenty of witnesses who can corroborate on Ford and Ramirez. Two of Ramirez’s classmates can recall hearing about Kavanaugh’s indecent exposure, with one recalling several of the same details. His fraternity had a very shady reputation. In Ford’s case, aside from the therapist notes and polygraph tests, there’s even more evidence. Mark Judge’s memoir of his high school days at least recalls Kavanaugh’s underage drinking and partying. Kavanaugh’s high school calendar details numerous beach trips, parties with friends, and times he was “grounded.” In addition, his high school yearbook entry listed him as Keg City Club treasurer along with terms like “boof,” “devil’s triangle,” and “Renate Alumnius.”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to come forward was a civic duty for she really doesn’t want a man who put her through the worst time of her life sit on the highest court in the nation. Or at least an FBI investigation to clear her memory which she asked for repeatedly. And I think it’s a reason that should concern us all. After all, statistics show that most incidents of rape and sexual assault go unreported and ignored. And out all reported incidents, only 6% of rapist are subject to any meaningful consequences. Most victims of sexual assault don’t come forward because those who do, often face scrutiny by an unsympathetic crowd, especially if the perpetrator is a pillar in the community, partner, a boss, or family member. Should the assailant have any power, then expect people rallying to defend them. When a woman’s sexually assaulted, people often see her situation as her fault. They say that she’s a slut and shouldn’t be screwing multiple men. They say she shouldn’t have been around men or be so sexually aggressive. They say that she should’ve dressed more modestly or danced less provocatively. They talk about how she drank too much. They remark on how Johnny’s a good boy who’d never go to town on an unconscious woman near a dumpster. Or how Chrissy’s “false” rape accusation is laden with ulterior motives of revenge for not asking her out to the prom. So we can’t have her sexual assault allegation ruin Kevin’s chances of getting into a big name college on a football scholarship. Or how we don’t want
to ruin Damien’s future despite that he tried to force himself on Shelley who’s set for a lifetime of trauma.Many women have faced death threats coming forward. Some have lost their jobs. Some have even faced criminal charges in falsely reporting a crime. Some had family, friends, and community turn against them. Some have had their reputations ruined and received death threats. While others are often ignored by law enforcement as the perpetrator goes on with his life without repercussions. As society teaches girls and women that they’re responsible for preventing rape because boys and men can’t control themselves and that they should accept their egregious behavior as normal, which is utter bullshit and insulting on multiple levels. For if men were truly unable to control their sexual urges, then how could priests remain celibate and husbands be unfaithful to their wives? Thus, it’s glaringly apparent that when they say, “boys will be boys,” they’re telling girls, “don’t expect boys to be responsible for violating you, since they matter more than you. And if they do anything to you that leaves any lasting trauma and suffering that’s not a big deal, it’s your fault. So shut up.” Sexual assault and harassment may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. And it’s certainly not right.

I have never been sexually assaulted. Mostly because I didn’t go to a lot of parties during my high school and college years. But I’ve been bullied all through my school days. I’ve been sexually harassed on multiple occasions by many immature classmates in middle and high school. And I’ve endured humiliation while many of my fellow schoolmates laughed on. I was constantly told to ignore it despite that I found it impossible. I was often upset that these people didn’t care about my feelings. I was angry that they didn’t listen to me whenever I told them to cut it out or take my pleas seriously. And even if I did tell a teacher about it, I knew it would only be a matter of time they’d start again. To deal with it day after day is often exhausting and frustrating. Fortunately, I wasn’t too traumatized by the whole thing and was glad it all ended by the time I went to college. Yet, I’m sure I have some scars that I had to suffer in silence so as not to draw attention to myself.

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Here we have Brett Kavanaugh with his wife during a Fox News damage control interview. Even at this angle, he appears kind of creepy to me.

In addition, I become furious whenever I see a smart capable woman like Hillary Clinton and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford having to put up being bullied by privileged and terrible men who deserve no place in the halls of power. During the presidential debates between Clinton and Donald Trump, I often saw myself in Clinton trying to get her vision across to the American people. Only for Trump to blurt out stupid shit about her dirty laundry and getting all the attention. He clearly had no interest in government policy. He only wanted to take Clinton down in the most humiliating way possible while drowning out whatever she had to say in the media. To see Clinton having to deal with all this shit really makes my blood boil. When I saw Judge Brett Kavanaugh lash out over the sexual assault allegations against him as liberal part to take him down, I was reminded by how many guys have treated me the same way. Seeing the kind of hell Ford had to go through, I believe her. While I was lucky enough not to experience sexual assault, I know what it’s like having people laugh at you when you’re in a state of misery.

With a man like Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, he can rule on cases relating to sexual assault and other misconduct for decades to come. The fact that he’s already a federal judge is extremely disturbing since he’s in a position of great power and influence. When it comes to sexual assault cases, judges have been especially lenient to white male perpetrators like Steubenville football players and Brock Turner. As a man born into wealth with an Ivy League pedigree and groomed to ascend to the highest court in the land as a conservative ideologue, Kavanaugh perpetuates and benefits from this kind of good-old-boy favoritism in the justice system on sexual assault cases. They may sympathize with these scions and prominent citizens. And thus, may be compelled to give these rich guys a more generous ruling than they deserve. All while having no concern for the women who’ve been harmed in the act and suffer in the legal proceedings with justice denied.

I am used to Supreme Court picks being partisan bloodbaths. But once a nominee is accused of sexual assault and other egregious misbehavior, they are automatically disqualified no questions asked. After all, sexual assault allegations would get you disqualified from many low-income jobs for obvious reasons. The Supreme Court shouldn’t be any different. Obviously, 11 Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee didn’t see it that way and now Judge Brett Kavanaugh has moved to a full Senate confirmation once the FBI investigation is over. Yet, after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s explosive temper tantrum, it’s disturbingly clear that these old white men had already made up their minds. They don’t care about whether Kavanaugh has the character to be a fair and impartial judge. They know he’s a conservative hack job who’d give them and their corporate donors favorable rulings on every issue you can imagine. Yet, they can just as easily ask Kavanaugh to withdraw and have Donald Trump nominate another conservative judge who hasn’t sexually assaulted anyone. But no.

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The fact Donald Trump bragged about sexual assault and Republicans still elected him president gives you all you need to know about the GOP and sexual harassment and assault. At least when it happens to one of their own. I’m sure they view the sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh the same way.

Nevertheless, the Republicans’ willingness to put Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court shows how far they’ve fallen since they’ve embraced Donald Trump as their leader. At some level, Republicans may see sexual harassment and assault as morally wrong. But at another level, they don’t necessarily see it as a big enough deal or problem people should care about. When Trump was caught bragging about sexual assault on that Hollywood Access bus tape, a whole bunch of Republicans abandoned him fearing he was about to lead the party into an electoral disaster. Only to drop the matter entirely as soon as Trump proved his doubters wrong. Not a single Congressional Republican expressed the slightest interest in hearing from Trump’s accusers, looking into their accusations in any way, or otherwise seeking to find the truth of the matter. Republicans can appear appalled when it’s expedient to do so, particularly in regards Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs. But they’ll pretend the whole thing never happened when it serves their interests. And that’s a pattern. When a top Fox News executive was drummed out for covering up so many sexual harassment charges that his ongoing employment was a huge liability, the White House snatched him up. When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly heard that staff secretary Rob Porter abused 2 ex-wives and a former girlfriend, he tried keeping it quiet. When the Federalist Society asked a Republican PR firm to they contracted with to lend someone to Senator Chuck Grassley to run point communications for the Kavanaugh nomination, they sent a guy they knew was a sexual harasser who later quit when it came out. Sexual harassment and assault are things Republicans know they’re supposed to care about. But Republicans in the internal party structure don’t care about them. So they don’t do anything unless public opinion forces their hand. Unless it’s Arizona US Senator Jeff Flake being confronted by 2 sexual assault survivors, most Republicans don’t take sexual assault seriously when the accusations surround one of their own.

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Remember, kids, anything you do will be on your permanent record. Also, just because you’re born into wealth and privilege doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a Supreme Court seat. In addition, if you act like this at your job interview, no one’s going to hire you. Still, Judge Brett Kavanaugh burst into fury and viciously denied being the frat boy back in his high school and college days. While being a lying sack of shit who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and shouldn’t get a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Yet, what I find most unsettling with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s character than the sexual assault allegations is how he reacted to them. Not only did he deny sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, he claimed he didn’t know her. Despite that she testified that she went out with one of his close friend who’s mentioned in his now notorious calendar 13 times. Furthermore, he cast himself as the clean-cut choir boy he wasn’t. Sure he drank, but not to the point where it affected his memory (despite that multiple classmates said he was a heavy drinker and an aggressive drunk, including his former roommate at Yale). And that he could legally drink in Maryland was legal in 1982 (he couldn’t). He may have had inside jokes, but never demeaned women (despite his “Renate Alumnius” entry was a sexist smear on a teenage girl’s promiscuity). While he enjoyed a lively social life, church always came first (though we can’t prove this. Yet, I bet he showed up to Sunday Mass with a hangover). Oh, and he was a virgin in both high school and college (despite that he tried to get into a girl’s pants and may have participated in gang rapes). Now I don’t think heavy drinking and partying during one’s school days isn’t disqualifying for the Supreme Court or any other high office. But not being honest about one’s frat boy past is, given that Kavanaugh has repeatedly lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee as well.

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Seeing Judge Brett Kavanaugh being denied a Supreme Court seat will set a powerful example to young men that actions have real consequences. And that sexual conduct without consent is not okay. But seeing that Republicans want to confirm him regardless of whether the allegations are true, I have good reason to worry that won’t happen. Because when it comes to sexual harassment and assault allegations against fellow Republicans, Republicans don’t care.

But more disturbingly, Judge Brett Kavanaugh called the circus around his sexual assault allegations, “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.” Obviously, he doesn’t acknowledge his drinking or the harm he might’ve inflicted on Ford’s life. He said these words with the entitled vicious rage of an alcoholic guy who’s used to getting his own way. And now he’s just learning like the rest of us did a long time ago that life isn’t fair and he can’t stand that. Furthermore, he’s a Trump-like partisan who feels entitled to say and do whatever he wants, uses emotional bullying and intimidation to get his way, and who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. Whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, a large share of the American public will never trust him as impartial. While most will continue to see him as the privileged, arrogant, and self-righteous prick he’s revealed himself to be. The US Senate must not confirm this unrepentant asshole to our nation’s highest court. For like America Ferrera, I am sick of seeing capable, intelligent, and credible women come up against whiny, incompetent men-children and be suppressed. The matter of Kavanaugh’s confirmation isn’t just a vote. But rather a referendum of who we are as a nation. What are we willing to accept and where are we, really? And how much longer will women’s lives and dignity be secondary to the needs of powerful men? Confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will send the wrong message to women and girls that their concerns don’t matter. His nomination must not continue any further.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Rod Rosenstein Has Left the Building (Okay, He Hasn’t, Yet)

On Friday, September 20, 2018, the New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he wanted to record conversations with Donald Trump in 2017. He also discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. He also talked about wearing a wire to catch him on tape. Though Rosenstein denied the report, one source told the Times he was being sarcastic. Eventually neither was carried out. The Times report was primarily based on anonymous source accounts and contemporaneous Andrew McCabe memo descriptions.

On Monday, September 24, 2018, news came that Rod Rosenstein’s position as deputy attorney general is now facing an uncertain future. Initial reports said he resigned or got fired, which was later debunked. As of now, it’s expected that Rosenstein will meet with Donald Trump to discuss his future with the Department of Justice. But the deputy attorney general expects to be fired. At any rate, the deputy attorney general’s possible departure is significant. Due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe over lying to Congress about his Russian contacts, Rosenstein was responsible for overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

  • According to court testimony, Mueller’s team has admitted to informing Rosenstein of all major decisions in advance, and that he’d have authority to overrule them.
  • Rosenstein approved Mueller’s assembly of an all-star team that totaled 17 prosecutors at its height.
  • In August 2017, Rosenstein wrote a memo to Mueller listing many people and topics he was authorized to investigate. The publicly released version is heavily redacted.
  • Rosenstein held press conferences announcing Mueller’s 2 major indictments of Russians for election interference like the February social media indictment and the July email hacking indictment.
  • Rosenstein was also reportedly involved in Mueller’s decision to refer an investigation into Michael Cohen to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, resulting in Cohen’s guilty plea to tax, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations in August.

Furthermore, Rosenstein has helped to preemptively protect Mueller from firing by testifying that regulation under which he appointed the special counsel gives him to send him on his way. So it’s clear that a Trump order to fire Mueller would be legally dubious.
For over a year, Rod Rosenstein has had to walk a delicate tightrope. On one hand, he was committed to protecting the investigation from conservatives inside and outside Congress who believed it biased against Donald Trump and urged him to fire the special counsel. Yet, Rosenstein couldn’t champion the investigation too much or else he’d draw Trump’s ire. In other words, he had to keep both sides happy as they constantly went at each other’s throats. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2017 over the Strzok-Page exchanges, Rosenstein defended the texts’ release to satisfy the anti-Mueller Republicans, saying “We consulted with the inspector general to determine that he had no objection to releasing the material. If he had, we would not have released it.” Yet, Rosenstein also defended Mueller when asked whether he’d fire him. He replied, “If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not. It would’ve been difficult to find anyone more qualified for this job.” Yet, keeping both sides happy allowed Rosenstein to claim support for his staff while also backing Donald Trump. It’s not a glamorous job but if he’s gone many fear Rosenstein might be replaced with a Trump crony who’d rein in the probe or even shut it down completely.

The current deputy attorney general’s potential departure strikes at the Trump-Russia investigation’s heart. Because Mueller had to run major investigative decisions past him. Rosenstein’s temporary replacement, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could simply refuse to approve Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the investigation to a crawl. Or he could fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so. Rod Rosenstein refused to do that. Instead, he allowed Mueller’s probe to proceed unimpeded while Mueller indicted top Trump campaign officials. The Mueller probe’s future and perhaps even that of Trump’s presidency once depended on how well Rosenstein performed this delicate balancing act.

Those who worked for him have long characterized Rod Rosenstein as an apolitical straight shooter who doesn’t put up with bullshit and always tries to be fair. Appointed as a US attorney for Maryland by President George W. Bush in 2005 and kept on by President Barack Obama, he joined the Trump administration with broad bipartisan support at his confirmation. Sure, he and Jeff Sessions wrote a letter calling of the firing of FBI Director James Comey for his actions against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. However, it turns out that Rosenstein isn’t a man without bias. Since his bias tends to be for the rule of law and country over party or anyone in the White House. But he made up for it by hiring Robert Mueller as special counsel, and authorizing him to look into possible Trump-Russia ties as well as “any matters that arose or may arise from the investigation.” He didn’t stop Mueller from pursuing the investigation the way he saw fit. And he made every indication that he intended to keep letting Mueller proceed with his probe.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump has publicly and privately raged about the Russia probe and his Justice Department for months. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have been his ire’s frequent targets. Trump has repeatedly complained that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” that “flipping” witnesses (like Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort) should be illegal, and that the Justice Department isn’t doing enough to investigate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and isn’t personally loyal to him. As a result, Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress and in conservative media have joined him in this effort as well, training criticism on Sessions and Rosenstein. Hardline House conservatives have even threatened to force a vote on Rosenstein’s impeachment based on paper thin pretexts before eventually backing down. So the fear of Trump firing Rosenstein and replacing him with a kiss-ass crony that could either slow down the Mueller probe or shut it down entirely is well-justified.

But if Rod Rosenstein is fired or resigns, Solicitor General Noel Francisco can change all that, especially if Donald Trump throws enough Twitter tantrums to give significant pressure. Firing Robert Mueller may not completely undermine the investigation. Since 5 Trump associates have pleaded guilty and prosecutors are likely to follow leads from the investigation’s beginning in June 2016. The future is still unclear. But if Francisco doesn’t do Trump’s bidding, Trump could fire him, which can be more detrimental to Mueller’s probe and be in the making of a Saturday night massacre. A new deputy attorney general could effectively cripple the Mueller probe by rejecting his requests to investigate more people, get new evidence, or pursue more charges against more people of interests. In effect, Rosenstein’s potential ouster puts Mueller’s investigation in its most precarious position to date, possibly allowing Donald Trump, his family, and associates to escape further scrutiny. And considering the horrible stuff Trump and his swamp cronies have done, our country can’t face this.

Et Tu, Paul Manafort?

On Friday, September 14, 2018, the moment special counsel Robert Mueller had been waiting for so long had finally happened. That day, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort appeared in a Washington DC court and pleaded guilty to a reduced set of charges. As part of his plea deal with Mueller’s team, Manafort agreed to cooperate with the investigation. The new deal will stave off a second trial for Manafort in a DC court which was supposed to begin this month as well as dismissing 10 mistrial counts from his trial in Virginia from August. Much of Manafort’s money and property will also be subject to forfeiture. In advance to Manafort’s fateful court appearance, Mueller’s team filed a new document that drops some charges and lays out what Manafort will admit to. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States (related to his foreign lobbying work in Ukraine and his finances), and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice (related to attempted witness tampering early this year).

Paul Manfort’s flip is enormously important for the Russia investigation since this deal marks the end of one phase in the Mueller investigation. Since his appointment in the summer of 2017, Robert Mueller has focused more on his office’s activity on Manafort than any other individual and was its most visible activity so far. He indicted the former Trump campaign chair on 25 charges in 3 separate batches and across 2 venues. In the first trial stemming from his probe, Mueller’s team got Manafort convicted on 8 counts and facing a years-long prison sentence. While investigating Russian interference with the 2016 campaign is Mueller’s main task with the Russia probe, the charges were mainly about Manafort’s past unregistered foreign lobbying work and his finances. Mueller hasn’t publicly explained his strategy. But many have long speculated that the special counsel’s main aim with charging Manafort with financial and lobbying crimes was to pressure him to “flip” so he’d agree to provide information related to their true concern of whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election.

Robert Mueller’s team initially indicted Paul Manafort in October 2017 alongside his longtime right-hand man Rick Gates on conspiracy, undeclared foreign lobbying, financial, and other crimes. Though we know Mueller had investigated Manafort’s involvement in Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, the indictment was about years’ worth of lobbying work the pair did for Ukranian politicians and government leaders prior to the campaign and what they did with their money afterward. At first, both pleaded not guilty. Then in February 2018, Mueller filed a new set of charges against the pair, again related to the Ukranian money. This spurred the younger and less wealthy Gates to strike a deal agreeing to cooperate against Manafort and pleading guilty to a reduced set of charges. But Manafort held out. 4 months later, Mueller’s team added a new allegation against him that he and a Russian associate named Konstatin Kilimnik encouraged a likely witness in his upcoming trial to stick to a false story. The new charges led Judge Amy Berman Jackson fining that Manafort had violated his conditions of release and ordering him jailed (as he has been since). During the Virginia trial, Gates testified against his former boss along with an array of other witnesses. And while Manafort’s team managed to get one holdout juror to vote against conviction of 10 charges, Mueller won a unanimous conviction on 8 others. Now with a conviction in the books and Manafort set to face a likely prison sentence, he was still facing another trial in Washington and potentially a second if Mueller retried the Virginia mistrial counts, Manafort eventually came to the table and agreed to cooperate.

Now that Paul Manafort has flipped, what does he know about the collusion or conspiracy between the Trump team and the Russian government during the 2016 campaign? Previously, Manafort has said nothing, stating that no collusion happened so he’d naturally have no information to provide. But given his intense focus on the former Trump campaign chair, Robert Mueller has long believed otherwise. And there are 2 suspicious circumstances during the 2016 campaign that we know Manafort was involved in.

The Trump Tower Meeting: Remember the infamous Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. set up in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer and other Russia-tied figures? Well, the 3 Trump figures in attendance were Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Until Manafort’s flip, no attendee has become a cooperator for Mueller. Perhaps the special counsel thinks more remains to be learned about the meeting and hopes Manafort will tell them about it.

As far as we know, Paul Manafort is the first person who attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting in July 2016 who’s agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s probe. We all know it arose after British publicist Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. to say that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton and that he could arrange a meeting to discuss its transfer with the Trump campaign. Trump Jr. infamously replied, “If it’s what you I say I love it.” Aside from Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner, other attendees included a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, real estate developer Ike Kaveladze, and lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, all of whom have Kremlin ties to varying degrees. Given that Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager at the time while Kushner was a significant Trump campaign figure sat in, it’s suggested the meeting was a high-level thing.

So far all of the attendees who’ve publicly spoken about it have insisted that nothing of note happened at the meeting. However, while there isn’t enough information one way or another, Goldstone’s emails setting up the meeting suggest collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is possible. And that the Trump campaign was at least open to the idea.

Robert Mueller is keenly interested in the Trump Tower meeting since his team has requested documents about it and quizzed witnesses on what actually happened. Now he has access to someone who has no incentive to stick to the party line. Since Paul Manafort has agreed to fully cooperate, he could officially tell us whether the official story about the meeting is true. Or whether it’s a cover for a much more significant interaction that might prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia after all. Another question Manafort could help answer is who knew about the meeting such as Donald Trump and the Russia government. Manafort knows what went on at the meeting and what it was for as well as possibly the cover-up afterward.

Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik: Even more suspicious are Paul Manafort’s surreptitious contacts with 2 Russian nationals during the campaign. One is his former client Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch to whom Manafort was heavily indebted. The other is Manafort’s longtime business associate Konstantin Kilmnik, who Mueller’s team has said is tied to Russian intelligence. Just weeks after joining the Trump campaign, Manafort appeared to see an opportunity. In early April, he emailed Kilimnik about his newly high media profile, writing “How do we use to get whole,” and “Has OVD operation seen?” (OVD is Deripaska’s initials). In July 2016, Manafort and Kilimnik exchanged emails about Deripaska again. Kilimnik wrote, “I am carefully optimistic on the issue of our biggest interest. He will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon.” Manafort replied that if Deripaska, “needs private briefings we can accommodate.” As the summer wore on, the pair’s emails on the topic grew vaguer. In late July, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort, “I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you.” Again, this is believed to be about Deripaska with “caviar” meaning money. Kilimnik and Manafort arranged to meet in New York City on August 2 for Kilimnik had “long caviar story” to tell and “several important messages.” Days after the meeting, Deripaska took a yacht trip with Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko who’s focused on foreign policy. All this occurred while Manafort chaired the Trump campaign before his mid-August 2016 firing. Since he’s based in Moscow, Kilimnik is unlikely to face charges.

Nonetheless, we still don’t know what happened between Manafort, Kilimnik, and Deripaska during the campaign. Maybe this is where the Trump/Russia collusion happened. Maybe Manafort was just freelancing and trying to get himself paid and it doesn’t involve Donald Trump personally. Yet, it’s one of the biggest loose ends about what happened in 2016. But whatever the case, Manafort has committed to tell Mueller the truth.

Paul Manafort’s guilty plea doesn’t say anything about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia military intelligence officials who’ve allegedly attacked the 2016 election for Donald Trump’s benefit. But the plea agreement’s implications point to many ways Manafort’s decision could legal and politically damage Trump. Trump’s constant assertion that the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt” has only sought to bring down “innocent” men keeps weakening when each “innocent” man confesses to federal felonies. While Trump claims the investigation is a money pit, Manafort’s asset surrender of accounts and properties worth millions of dollars shows that the Mueller probe has basically paid for itself. Furthermore, Manafort’s guilty plea virtually blocks any avenue Trump can obstruct the investigation by pardoning him. Now that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller and Trump has no apparent way to learn what his former campaign chair has told prosecutors or a grand jury, there’s no way Trump can benefit with a pardon attempt. Finally, after months of painting Manafort as a “good guy” who’s been treated “unfairly,” Trump’s spin doctors will have to reverse course on a potential witness against their guy. Rudy Giuliani seemed confused about this fact, releasing a statement saying, “the president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth,” before retracting the part about Manafort.

Furthermore, what Paul Manafort knows is important for several threads of the Russia investigation like the hack on the DNC, any communication between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, and most importantly, the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Before striking the plea deal with the former campaign chair, prosecutors sat down with Manafort for a proffer session where a defendant answers from investigators, including details about their own case and other criminal activity they might’ve witnessed. Ultimately, prosecutors will only agree to a cooperation deal with a defendant if the latter gives them information that other witnesses and documents can verify. So Mueller’s team feels that what Manafort knows is really critical evidence about that Trump Tower meeting, who knew about it and when, and what other contacts took place between the campaign and people around Donald Trump.

A Strike Behind Bars

Amid the press coverage of Donald Trump, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Catholic Church sexual abuse, John McCain’s funeral, the 2018 midterms, football season, back to school, and whatever else is going on with the world, there are plenty of news stories that fall through the cracks. One of these is a 3 week nationwide strike behind bars of which most will never see. Demonstrations began on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 and are scheduled to last until September 9, which marks the anniversary of the bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. During this time, inmates in 17 states have taken part in sit-ins, hunger strikes, and work strikes in an attempt to draw attention to poor prison conditions and what many view as exploitative labor in American correctional facilities. In addition, they’re calling for boycotts against agencies and companies benefitting from prisons and prison labor. As protest spokesperson Amani Sawari told Vox, “The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body. If they choose not to go to work and just sit in in the main area or the eating area, and all the prisoners choose to sit there and not go to the kitchen for lunchtime or dinnertime, if they choose not to clean or do the yardwork, this is the leverage that they have. Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work.”

The demonstrations come 2 years after what was then viewed as the largest prison strike in United States history with protests breaking out in 12 states in 2016. While the 2016 protests were largely planned on September 9, they ended up taking part over weeks or months as prison officials tried tamping down on prison demonstrations and mitigate the protests’ effects. These current demonstrations can be even larger than those previous protests since they’re spread over 3 weeks to make it more difficult for prison officials to crack down. The inmates have outlined 10 national demands. These include “immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons” and “an immediate end to prison slavery.” They also target federal laws that boosted mass incarceration and have made it harder for inmates to sue officials for potential rights violations. In addition, they call for an end to racial disparities in the criminal justice system and an increase to rehabilitation prison programs. These demands are on top of specific local and regional requests the prisoners are making. I will get to more of these list items later, explaining what these mean.

These prison strikes are a part response to the prison riot at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution in April, which state officials described as a “mass casualty” event. According to the Associated Press, 7 inmates were killed while at least 17 were seriously injured. An inmate told the AP that bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other,” claiming that prison guards did little to stop the violence between inmates. Most of the fatal injuries appeared to be due slashing and stabbing, although some inmates may have been beaten to death. No prison guards were hurt. The riot was the worst in a US prison in a quarter-century.

Based on reports following the riot, it seems some of the major causes besides personal and potentially gang-related disputes, were poor prison conditions and understaffing. So there weren’t enough guards to stop the fighting. This is part of a growing problem. According to an investigation by South Carolina’s The State, the number of inmates killed in the state’s prisons, “more than doubled in 2017 from the year before and quadrupled from two years ago.” And it wasn’t the first time Lee experienced violence that year either. Three weeks before the riot, inmates overpowered a guard, held him hostage, and took control of part of a dorm for an hour and a half before releasing him unharmed. In February one inmate fatally stabbed another. Nor is its problems with violent unique. For in Columbia’s Kirkland Correctional Institution, 4 inmates were strangled in 2017.
Obviously, violence is generally a huge problem in US prisons. According to a 2009 study, during a 6-month period, about 21% of male prison inmates are physically assaulted while 2-5% are sexually assaulted. But the problem seems particularly acute in South Carolina’s correctional facilities in recent years. One reason is understaffing for South Carolina prisons have struggled to find enough workers, making it difficult to keep these places under control. Another cause is poor prison conditions like underfunding, overcrowding, and lack of rehabilitative interventions. A strike spokesperson told Vox, “Prisoners were placed in some really aggravated conditions. They were placed on lockdown all day. They weren’t allowed to eat or use the bathroom. They were placed in units with rival gang members. And then their lockers were taken away, so they didn’t have any safe place to put their personal belongings, which really aggravated and caused tensions among prisoners — to the point where fights broke out, inevitably.”
However, for prisons, fixing the problem these demonstrations raise will require money, which cash-strapped state governments may not want to put up. This raises real questions on whether the inmates’ demands can or will be heard. Hiring more guards and paying them more money to make the job attractive to more people costs money. So does improving prison conditions in general. All of that cash could be spent elsewhere.
Nonetheless, I should give you all a rundown on the demands the prisoners have made in the strike.

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.– in the United States, there’s a tendency for society to throw people behind bars, completely dehumanize them, and forget about them. As history shows, we tend to forget that convicts are human beings with rights and some say over their lives. Being behind bars doesn’t throw all that away. As a Jailhouse Lawyers Speak statement read, “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be avoided if prison policy makers actually gave a damn. Prisons in America are a war zone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us, it’s as if we are already dead, so what do we have to lose?”

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.– this is a major issue and affects you more than you think. If there is an issue you should care about and what unites prisoners, it’s prison labor. In many states, prisoners are forced to work for cents an hour or even for free. Though according to The Marshall Project, the average prisoner pay is 20 cents an hour. This was permitted after the 13th Amendment’s passage which banned slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Across the US, hundreds of thousands of inmates have jobs. While California inmates have been recruited to fight the state’s record wildfires for $1 an hour and $2 per day, American prisoners also do more typical jobs like kitchen work, cleaning, and GED tutoring. Sometimes the jobs take inmates outside of prison, although more often they mimic real-world jobs or involve menial chores that need done around the prison. They also make a vast array of consumer goods like lingerie, blue jeans, toys, military equipment, and car parts. They’ve harvest Florida oranges and shoveled snow in Boston after a blizzard. Like the protestors in the 2016 prison strike, the 2018 demonstrators characterize this practice as modern slavery. And since black people are disproportionately likely to become incarcerated, there are racial disparities in this often forced, low-wage labor. In addition, companies also take advantage of prison labor. which generates over $1 billion a year for the private sector. Now both prison officials and advocates agree that prison labor helps inmates gain much-needed real-world working experience. But even if it does, that doesn’t justify paying pennies or nothing at all. In fact, if prison work programs are beneficial, spending on them should be increased so everyone can participate and get more pay for their work. Furthermore, these inmates are still often the primary breadwinners for their families and are expected to meet some financial obligations even before their release. As Sawari told Vox, “Prisoners do like having the opportunity to earn, because they do have to support themselves financially in a lot of ways. Prisoners have to provide for their health care, their dental care. They have to buy food if they want to eat outside the three times a day most prisons serve. … They have to buy clothes like jackets and boots, hygiene products, cosmetics, books, study materials, paper, tape, scissors. Any little thing they need, they have to buy that. So they want to be able to.” At the same time, they’re often subject to exorbitant markups on personal products at prison commissaries and often grossly overcharges on the ability to communicate by phone or internet with family and friends on the outside.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.– called the PLRA, this law makes it much harder for prisoners to file and win civil rights lawsuits in federal court. To file a lawsuit, inmates must exhaust all administrative grievance processes available to them within the correctional facility before taking their case to court. Working through these avenues can be complicated, have difficult deadlines, and often be fruitless. While suits about physical injury are allowed, those alleging mental or emotional harm are restricted. Courts can no longer waive court fees for incarcerated people but require installment payments instead. While an incarcerated plaintiff who’s had 3 lawsuits dismissed will have to pay in advance. Should a lawsuit succeed, there are limits to litigation costs the court can order the prison to pay to the prisoner’s attorney. This reduces the number of lawyers willing to take good winnable cases on behalf of incarcerated people with only 5% of prisoner civil rights cases having legal representation in 2012. In addition, the law limits the courts’ ability to change prison policy.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human
shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.- in the United States, Truth in Sentencing refers to policies and legislation aiming to abolish or curb parole so that convicts serve out the period to which they’ve been sentenced. In some cases, truth in sentencing is linked to movements like mandatory sentencing (in which particular crimes yield automatic sentences regardless of extenuating circumstances) and habitual offender or “three strikes” laws in which state law requires courts to hand down mandatory and extended periods of incarceration to those convicted of a criminal offense on multiple occasions. The US has the Violent Offender and Incarceration and Truth in Sentencing Program which awards grants to states so long as they pass laws requiring Part 1 violent offenders must serve at least 85% of their sentence to qualify for parole eligibility. As of 2008, the District of Columbia and 35 states qualify for this additional funding. As part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act is a US statute in federal intended to increase consistency in federal sentencing. In addition to establishing the US Sentencing Commission, it abolished federal parole save for those convicted of federal crimes before 1987, those convicted under DC law, those who violated military law held in federal civilian prisons, “transfer treaty” inmates, and defendants in state cases and in witness protection. Nonetheless, both policies have contributed to mass incarceration and prison overcrowding. Many also believe that the death penalty is a stupid idea while life without parole offers no chance of a release.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.– this refers to the racial disparities in sentencing practices which is rampant across the United States. Nonwhite inmates are subject to harsher charges, longer sentences, and more parole denials than their white counterparts. This especially goes when the victim is white.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.– another addressing racial disparities in law enforcement which pertain to gangs. Gang enhancements are measures to ensure that anyone who commits a felony for a gang’s benefit, which results in a mandatory prison sentence in addition and consecutive to the penalty they receive for the underlying crime.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.-the film Birdman of Alcatraz offers a compelling case for this argument since Robert Stroud was indeed a violent offender. Though the real Stroud wasn’t a particularly nice guy.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.– in the United States, funding rehabilitation services for prisoners isn’t a high priority. Yet, the lack of rehabilitation programs for prisoners has contributed to high recidivism rates and prison overcrowding. Many released prisoners find themselves unable to adjust to outside life. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67.8% of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.– in most of the US, prisoners are denied the same opportunities and ways to get ahead and secure a job, which often leads to recidivism. And it doesn’t help that many of these inmates come from poverty either. For inmates seeking a college education which helps reduce their chance of recidivism, many are denied the grants and aid most college students on the outside enjoy. Nonetheless, if the drug gang members in The Wire had access to the same opportunities from the inside or out, most of them would not be selling crack on the street.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.– in most of the United States, convicts and ex-felons are frequently denied the right the vote. Felony disenfranchisement laws depend on each state. In Pennsylvania and 13 other states, felony disenfranchisement only lasts as long as the convict is behind bars and are restored upon release. But other states are much harsher. In 4 states including New York, felony disenfranchisement ends only after parole. In 19 states, felony disenfranchisement ends not only after incarceration or parole, but also after probation. In 7 states, restoration of voting rights after sentence completion and depending on circumstances of the crime. While 4 states like Florida require restoration to voting rights to convicts after all offenses through individual petition. In Florida, this petition must be made 5-7 years after completion of incarceration, parole, and probation. It’s said that Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws are so harsh that in 2014 more than 1 in 10 Florida residents and 1 in 4 African Americans in the state were shut out of the polls. Nonetheless, while proponents often argue that loss of suffrage is only fair to deny political decision making to known criminals, felony disenfranchisement can create dangerous political incentives to skew criminal law in favor of disproportionally targeting groups who politically oppose those who hold power. And many of these felony disenfranchisement laws were made during segregation to keep African Americans from voting and continue to keep many blacks from the polls in several southern states. Not to mention, many states have often used prisoners’ disenfranchised status to exercise prison gerrymandering.

Despite the strike’s limited scope and difficulty corroborating the organizers’ claims, national and local media have covered the strike in earnest, some calling it, “the largest national prison strike in US history.” On the strike’s first day, news of the strike and goals have been reported on NPR, Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vox, Al Jazeera, BBC World News, Mother Jones, and other many other outlets. However, history shows that political actions by prisoners often have mixed results. Some prison reform advocates say that fear of reprisals coupled with the difficulty communicating between prisons makes widespread action unlikely. But some media attention is a small victory in that it has brought the issue of inhumane prison conditions to a wider audience in a way that Stephen King hasn’t. Yet, the number of prisoners striking is unknown and won’t be confirmed. So there’s no hint that the strike will be larger and more robust than past efforts. Some outlets reposted unchecked information put out by outside strike organizers, including details on how many prisons are participating. Others balanced the organizers’ accounts with official statements by state corrections departments. Nevertheless, generating media attention is the strike’s main goal since it’s very difficult to get any. Mostly because it’s hard enough to know what’s going on in prisons across the country since there’s little information available. Hopefully, this 2018 prison strike could mark turning point in meaningful criminal justice reform in the future.

The Consigliere Folds

On Tuesday, August 20, 2018, Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to 8 federal charges, including 5 counts of tax evasion involving $4 million, one count of lying to a financial institution, and one count of willful cause of unlawful corporate contributions from June – October 2016 along with one excessive campaign contribution on October 27, 2016. The last charge is related to the $130,000 hush money payment Cohen arranged to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep her silent about an affair she had with Trump in 2006. Yet, more importantly, Cohen admitted that he did so at Trump’s direction and with the goal of influencing the election.

Since April 9, 2018 when the FBI raided and seized several electronic devices at his residence, office, and hotel room, Michael Cohen has been in deep legal trouble. Several months ago, New York federal investigators convened a grand jury to investigate him for “criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings” and “finances,” according to a court filing. They also obtained search warrants on several of his email accounts. This led to the April 9 raids with prosecutors looking for information on Cohen’s hush money payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels on Donald Trump’s behalf, hush money payments to other women like the $150,000 to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, efforts to suppress negative information about Trump during the 2016 campaign, and information about taxi medallions that Cohen owns. The penalties Cohen faces carry a sentence up to 65 years in prison, which he’s unlikely to face thanks to his plea deal with prosecutors. His sentencing is scheduled for December 12 and has been released on $500,000 bond.

Though Michael Cohen’s conduct was examined by special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference with the 2016 election, this indictment has nothing to do with it. But now has reached a deal with prosecutor, it’s not quite clear what this might mean for Donald Trump as one of his closest associates for decades may be facing serious legal consequences. While Cohen once said he’d take a bullet for Trump, recent events suggests otherwise since he’s soured on his old boss. This summer, he gave several public signals that he may be willing to cooperate with prosecutors, including releasing a secret recording of himself with Trump discussing a payoff to Karen McDougal. A CNN report also suggested Cohen had considered telling Mueller that Trump had advance knowledge of the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, which Trump has repeatedly denied. However, Cohen’s plea agreement doesn’t call for cooperation with prosecutors, including anyone on Mueller’s team. Yet, Cohen’s revelations deal a blow to Trump with the latter clearly listed as “Individual 1” in the charging documents. While there’s no allegation of wrongdoing against Trump in the government’s charges against Cohen, he’s the latest member of his inner circle charged with federal crimes.

Born on Long Island, New York, Michael Cohen initially found financial success in the 1990s as a personal injury lawyer and through various business investments tied to a New York City community of Ukranian immigrants. Later, he began investing in real estate, including Trump properties, which is how he entered Donald Trump’s orbit. In the early 2000s, Cohen intervened on the mogul’s side for condo board control of Trump World Tower in New York. Trump was impressed and offered Cohen a job in 2007 as executive vice president and special counsel for the Trump Organization. The job duties varied,, which earned him a perfect designation as a “fixer.” In his first few years, Cohen was involved in matters ranging from a New Jersey development project to MMA live events. By 2011, he took a leading role in advising Trump on his growing political ambitions, launching a website called “Should Trump Run?” and flying to Iowa to meet with Republican operatives. However, Trump ultimately ended up not running for president in 2012.

For a time, things went well for Michael Cohen. He took an even larger role in the Trump Organization helping to explore potential development projects in the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Kazakhstan. He made high-dollar, eyebrow-raising real estate purchases. After Donald Trump officially launched his 2016 presidential campaign in July 2015, Cohen was quite busy behind the scenes. Some highlights include:

  • Threatening a reporter- In July 2015, Michael Cohen tried to stop the Daily Beast from running a story about an old deposition Donald Trump’s ex-wife Ivana Trump made alleging that Trump raped her. Cohen did this by making profane threats to reporter Tim Mak in phone calls he recorded such as, “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”
  • Asking for cash for the Trump Foundation- In August 2015, Ukranian steel billionaire Victor Pinchuk reached out through an intermediary and asked Donald Trump to speak at conference he was hosting in Kiev. Trump accepted. But the next day, Michael Cohen sent word back that Trump would require a $150,000 donation to the Trump Foundation as a speaking fee while the payment was made.
  • Working on the Moscow Trump Tower project- In October 2015, the Trump Organization signed a letter of intent to build this tower. Russia-born developer Felix Sater emailed Michael Cohen, “I will get [Russian President Vladimir] Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected… Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.” In January 2016, Cohen emailed Putin’s spokesperson Dimitry Peskov asking for help on the project but reportedly never got a response. The company abandoned the project soon afterwards.
  • Arranging hush money payments- Most famously, Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump just weeks before the 2016 election. Yet, he was also in a loop for a similar payment to the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media, Inc., which paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal for rights to her story of her 2006-2007 alleged affair with Donald Trump in August 2016. However, the deal wasn’t for the tabloid to publish her story, but to hush it up in exchange that it would publish some of her fitness columns. In July 2018, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis released a tape stating it was from September 2016 that included a recording between Trump and Cohen apparently discussing setting up a shell company to pay back AMI for hushing up McDougal’s story. The FBI reportedly seized the tape on Cohen’s property.

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Michael Cohen announced he’d leave the Trump Organization but would continue work as his personal attorney, in what many observers see as an effort to hold on to his attorney-client privilege with his boss. Cohen also took on 2 new clients. One was Republican National Committee fundraiser Elliot Broidy who paid hush money to a Playboy Playmate he knocked up. The other was Fox News host and prominent conspiracy theorist, Sean Hannity, for services Hannity claims, “dealt almost exclusively about real estate.”

Michael Cohen’s legal troubles kicked into high gear on January 12, 2018 when the Wall Street Journal reported that he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money near the end of the presidential campaign. As Election Day drew near, Daniels threatened to come forward with her story alleging her 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump. Since Cohen wanted to keep her quiet, he created the shell company called Essential Consultants LLC and wired the $130,000 to Daniels’ lawyers. The next day, Daniels and Cohen signed a nondisclosure agreement with its validity now subject to a lawsuit. Daniels complied. When the FBI raided Cohen’s office, residence, and hotel room and seized potential evidence, they were reportedly looking for anything related to the Daniels payment, among other things.

Nonetheless, what’s important is that Michael Cohen stated in court that he made hush money payments “in coordination with and at the direction of a federal candidate for office” who is certainly Donald Trump “for the purpose of influencing” the 2016 election. His admissions directly implicate Trump listed as “Individual 1” in the charging documents. While the consequences of are yet unclear, this makes Trump an unindicted co-conspirator to a federal crime. But the big question is what sort of legal jeopardy does this put him, if at all? And perhaps, more importantly, what does this mean for Robert Mueller’s Russia probe? While legal experts may agree that Trump is undoubtedly guilty, they are uncertain of what happens next. Some say that Cohen is likely to cooperate with the Mueller probe as per lawyer’s recommendation since he knows where the bodies are buried in the Trump Organization along with its finances going many years. Some think that Trump is in deep shit and it’s only a matter of time that Trump will face legal jeopardy. Others don’t think he’ll face any legal consequences at this point since it’s unclear whether a sitting president can be indicted and Republicans in Congress have no interest to impeach him or hold him accountable.

Meanwhile, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was found guilty by a jury on 8 counts that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team charged him with in Virginia. These charges comprised of 5 counts of subscribing to false income tax returns, one count of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts (FBAR), and 2 counts of bank fraud. But thanks to one rogue Trump supporting juror, the other 10 counts ended in mistrial such as 3 FBAR charges, 2 bank fraud charges, and 5 bank fraud conspiracy charges. Though Mueller’s team can retry these charges against Manafort if they want to. On September 17, 2018, Manafort faces 7 more charges in a trial that will take place in Washington DC which will focus on much of his actual work in Ukraine than his finances, which are:

  • 2 counts on conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to launder money- These 2 broad counts sum up what the government alleges was Paul Manafort’s overall “scheme” to violet US law with his unregistered foreign lobbying and undeclares finances.
  • 3 counts on being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements- These relate to Paul Manafort’s initial lack of registration as a foreign lobbyist regarding his Ukranian work and later lying to the government about it.
  • 2 counts on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice- The Mueller team added against Paul Manafort in June, after the government alleged that Manafort and his associate Konstantin Kilimnik had contacted witnesses this year and urged them to lie about their Ukranian lobbying. Kilimnik has also been charged with these 2 counts by the way.

There’s no doubt that Paul Manafort’s keeping quiet since he’s holding out for a Donald Trump pardon. Yet, it’s possible that Trump won’t go ahead if his association with his former campaign manager reflects badly on him. Nevertheless, as the Virginia jury convened, Manafort’s lawyers reportedly talked with Mueller’s team about a potential plea deal for the charges against him in Washington. Many have speculated that Mueller’s true goal is pressuring Manafort to “flip” against Trump, leading him to share information and become a cooperating witness to the probe into Russia campaign interference. And it’s at least possible that Manafort’s newfound conviction has changed his calculous and made him more likely to cooperate.

However, 2 important details in the Wall Street Journal’s report cast doubt on whether such a bombshell flip was truly on the agenda. First off, it’s said the Mueller talks’ goal was to forestall Paul Manfort’s next trial in Washington. Second, the talks fell apart due to unspecified “issues” Mueller raised. Apparently, Mueller didn’t seem impressed on what Manafort has to offer. Indeed, it’s unclear whether Manafort even offered any cooperation at all seeing how he’s clearly holding out for a Trump pardon. He might’ve just offered to plead guilty to avoid another expensive trial while the government can avoid an uncertain outcome. Furthermore, Trump has hinted he’s open to a pardon, which a plea deal with Mueller could totally ruin Manafort’s pardon prospects which are now more important now he’s convicted and facing prison time. Yet, a pardon may not be in Trump’s best interests since such gesture may make him seem complicit in Russian interference in 2016 or at least approving of Manafort’s actions. Then again, Helsinki summit with Putin already accomplished that so it’s a toss up. At any rate, it’s easy to see why Mueller would focus on Manafort in regards to Russia probe. He has connections with Russian oligarchs and pro-Russian leaders. He was Trump’s campaign manager during a critical moment in the 2016 election and was present at the infamous Trump Tower meeting that year. And he was already in trouble with the US government over his time in Ukraine that he was forced to resign from the Trump campaign after the conventions wrapped up, which made him very easy to indict. Furthermore, his right-hand man Rick Gates has already flipped on him.

Adding to Donald Trump’s troubles, National Enquirer publisher and CEO of American Media Inc. David Pecker has was granted immunity. In August 2016, the tabloid arranged a “catch and kill” deal with former Playboy model Karen McDougal in which she’d sell the rights to her story for $150,000 in exchange that she won’t publicly talk about it and get a few fitness articles published. Pecker’s involvement with McDougal’s payoff is well-documented, yet prosecutors revealed he was also surprisingly involved in paying off porn actress Stormy Daniels as well. So he knows a lot more about what behind the scenes with these hush money payments than we realized. Pecker’s cooperation could give prosecutors more evidence about Trump’s knowledge of the deals and whether he coordinated and directed those hush money payments. Pecker will not face criminal charges but he will be compelled to testify even if that means against his old friend Trump.

However, the Trump associate who we should watch for is Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg who’s also been granted immunity in exchange for giving prosecutors information. Though he’s not as visible in Trumpworld as Michael Cohen, he may be more important since he’s worked for Donald Trump and his family since the 1970s and has signed off on the company’s significant deals. If anyone knows anything about the Trump Organization’s finances and Trump’s decades long trail of high financial crimes, it’s him. For Trump rarely trusts anyone with his money. Granted he was subpoenaed into the investigation into Cohen, but it’s not confirmed whether he’s appeared in front of a grand jury. While Weisselberg has met with prosecutors, we’re not sure what information he provided, including whether Trump knew about the hush money payments. While the Cohen raid is seen as the biggest legal threat to Trump, Weisselberg’s willingness to talk may be an even bigger problem.