I’m a little behind the news cycle on this, but here is my take on why Trump should be very worried about the Cohen plea and Manafort verdict the other week. They both happened on the same day and each has very different implications.
Let’s start with Cohen. He was Trump’s personal fixer for 10 years. He once said that he would take a bullet for Trump. So Trump threw him under the bus because with Trump, loyalty is a one way street. On seeing Trump turn on him so quickly and easily, Cohen justifiably decided to save his own skin.
First off, Cohen essentially named Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony crime. In the grand scheme of things, this is fairly small, but Trump has repeatedly lied about it to the American people, and Congress impeached Clinton for less. That means that there are now grounds for impeachment. The reality of it though is that almost every campaign has finance violations to some extent. This is on the severe side, but still considered small potatoes.
After making his plea deal though, Cohen offered to spill everything he knows. Since that time, the Trump organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg, and the editor of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, have been given immunity. The National Enquirer is said to have a whole vault of stories that they have squashed for Trump. An illegitimate child is one, though at this point another sex scandal won’t mean anything. But they could have other things that are more serious than salacious, like mob connections. If Trump paid to bury more stories during the campaign, that would be more campaign finance violations.
Cohen’s lawyer has said that Cohen has knowledge that Trump knew about the Russian hacking, before it happened, and approved. That is huge! If he has proof to go with the allegations, that is a few dozen felonies and treason.
Outside of the Russian investigation and any salacious stories the National Enquirer might have, Cohen and Weisselberg know where all of the financial bodies are buried. Cohen created a shell company just to pay Stormy Daniels. Trump has something like 4000 shell companies that we know of. His name came up several hundred times in the Panama Papers release. Between the 2 of them, you have the specter of all sorts of things from tax evasion to money laundering to using the Trump Foundation accounts for personal benefit.
We also know that Cohen liked to record things. So here are some of the other possibilities that loom, if he has explicit proof.
1) Trump made a large donation to the re-election campaign of the Florida AG, Pam Bondi. Not long after, she dropped the probe into Trump University. A campaign donation is legal bribery if there is no explicit quid-pro-quo. However, if there were a recording or some other proof of an arrangement, then Trump and Bondi are in deep trouble.
2) The New York DA was looking into Ivanka and Don Jr for investment fraud on a property they owned. Again, Trump made a large campaign contribution and the investigation was dropped. Same situation as above.
3) Trump University was a scam. If there is evidence that Trump created it specifically to bilk people, then you have intent to defraud.
4) Trump has a long history of stiffing contractors and investors. If he planned to stiff them ahead of time, then you again have intent to defraud.
5) There has been a litany of things brought up about the Trump Foundation and Trump using it to pay his legal bills and other illegal shenanigans. So that too has potential for incrimination that Cohen or Weisselberg might have evidence on.
6) Lastly, there is still the open question of who owns the shell company that got a 19% stake in Rosneft, the Russian oil company. To the best of my knowledge, that has not been answered. It was mentioned in the Steele Dossier and sold to a shell company, with undisclosed ownership, in the Cayman Islands in December of 2016. If sanctions on Russia were lifted, that 19% share would be worth over $100 billion just based on the arctic deal with Exxon. Trump inquired about lifting those sanctions the first week he was in office.
Now we get to Paul Manafort. People say that the charges against him are from things he did 10 years ago and had nothing to do with the campaign. That is true, but it raises a whole slew of questions. Manafort is also due in court next month for additional charges that are more closely related to the campaign.
So how do those charges relate to the campaign?
Manafort was $10 million in debt to a Russian oligarch, along with other debts, when he took the job of campaign manager for $0 pay. Why would a man who not only owed that much money, but was entirely broke, take a job for no pay? In addition, Manafort and Gates were in regular contact with their Russian “handler” during the campaign and well into 2017.
Trump was warned by the FBI that Manafort was likely compromised by the Russians, and yet he hired him anyway, for no pay. Which is actually the same story with Michael Flynn. When running for office, why would anybody even consider hiring not just one, but two people, whom they were warned were compromised by a hostile foreign government? Unless they too were compromised and were ordered to.
In Manafort’s trial, his defense team did little more than put up a token defense. At his age, he is already looking at life in prison, and has many more charges coming at him. For someone who lived a very lavish lifestyle, prison for life isn’t really an option. He is waiting for a pardon. Which is interesting considering that Trump says he was only there for a short time and that he barely knew him. At least according to Trump, who has floated the idea.
Here is my personal completely unfounded conspiracy theory, that has no facts or evidence whatsoever behind it. The Novochok attacks in Britain weren’t warnings to all of Putin’s enemies that he can reach them anywhere. They were a warning to Manafort to shut the hell up and wait for a pardon, or his family would meet an unfriendly doorknob. Of course that means that Trump is under strict orders to pardon him when instructed to.
The problem for Trump, with pardoning Manafort, is that then Manafort can no longer plead the 5th if he is subpoenaed after that.
If I had to bet though, I would bet that as soon as Manafort is found guilty in the next trial, Trump will give him a late night full and unconditional pardon and Manafort will be on a plane to Russia before Mueller or the Senate wake up the next day. I am usually wrong at predicting things though.
In reality though, nothing much is likely to come from Manafort, in relation to Trump. Either he is waiting for, and will get, a pardon and/or he is under threat from Russia and won’t talk regardless. Gates on the other hand might be singing like a canary.
The next few months will be interesting to see. How many felony counts will rack up directly on Trump or as an unindicted co-conspirator? How many felony counts are going to start piling up on Ivanka, Jr, Eric, and Jared when the Trump Organization skeletons come out?
The most important question of all, whether it all comes out before the election or Republicans hold on to congress, will Republicans actually impeach him no matter how many felony charges are pending, including treason? At this point, I have seen no indication that they would, even with treason as a charge.