Mueller notches a victory in Manafort trial
In the first test of their ability to persuade a jury, special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors won convictions this week of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, on eight felony charges. Prosecutors contended that Mueller failed to pay taxes on over $60 million he made from work for pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians. Manafort was found guilty on five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. The jury deadlocked on 10 additional counts, most also related to bank fraud. Manafort, 69, now faces up to 80 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines indicate a more likely sentence of seven to 10 years. He has another trial scheduled for September in Washington, D.C., on additional charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
President Trump insisted that Manafort’s convictions were unrelated to the original justification for Mueller’s investigation. “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion,” Trump told reporters, adding, “This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace.” In a tweet, Trump praised Manafort for resisting “tremendous pressure” and refusing to “break.”
What the columnists said
Trump is right—this has nothing to do with Russia, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. “Mueller’s cheerleaders in politics and the press” will call this a victory, but not once during the trial were “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign” revealed. The prosecution played “hardball” in an attempt to coerce Manafort into flipping on Trump, but failed to get what they wanted.
Still, it’s “hard to believe” Manafort knows nothing of value to Mueller, said Randall Eliason in WashingtonPost.com. He made millions lobbying on behalf of Russian interests and ran Trump’s campaign “during the critical period involving the campaign’s contacts with Russians.” It’s possible Manafort “doesn’t want to be a ‘snitch’ as a matter of principle,” but he also might not want to die in prison. With another trial coming, Manafort’s “door to potential cooperation” with Mueller “is not completely closed.” Trump fears the “flip,” said Jennifer Rubin, also in WashingtonPost.com, but pardoning Manafort “would be a disaster.” Should the president dare to issue a pardon before the midterms, “a firestorm would ensue,” putting at risk many more congressional Republicans.
Trump ran as the candidate of “law and order,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but “he repels virtue, and is a magnet for sleaze.” It’s hardly surprising that criminality pervades his inner circle, as “Trump has built an entire career knee-deep in ethical filth.” With Mueller’s investigation nowhere near its conclusion, we already “know that Trump’s campaign manager, national security adviser, and personal attorney, along with two other campaign aides, are convicted and confessed felons.” The amount of illegality surrounding Trump is “historic.”