A Tightening Noose
By Han Lee
(Pictured above: Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen)
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty today on 8 charges- 5 for tax fraud, 1 for hiding foreign bank accounts, and 2 for bank fraud. Manafort had been charged with 18 counts of various crimes, and his case was the first that special counsel Robert Mueller has brought to the courtroom so far. Mueller is investigating the extent of Russian interference and American complicity in the 2016 US presidential election.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres submitted an apt summary of the charges arrayed against Manafort, in which he stated, "Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn't. This is a case about lies." Manafort now faces a second court appearance, in which he is charged with failing to register as an agent for a foreign nation and his complicity in a money laundering conspiracy.
President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to 8 counts of campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and bank fraud.
What was shocking was his admission in court today that he had indeed facilitated payments to women who had levied accusations against the then presidential candidate Trump of sexual harassment, assault, and marital infidelity. "I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election" for Trump, said Cohen.
It may seem as though the sharks are finally circling over the Trump administration. Let's take a quick second here to bring up a recent comment by Trump's new personal lawyer, former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "The truth isn't the truth." Now, while this just lends further credence to the case that the Trump administration is propped up by the sophomoric efforts of bloviating imbeciles, why would he so confidently spout out such a thing?
It is because the investigation into whether Trump ultimately committed treason by bending- knowingly or not -to Russian meddling will not be decided in a court of law. The ultimate direction of the Mueller investigation will be decided in the court of public opinion.
On one hand, this is why the Manafort conviction is so important. A firm conviction can be used by Mueller to force cooperation from Manafort, a move that would open up yet another avenue for investigators to undertake in their trawl through the murky depths of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. It is still too early for major pollsters to have conducted surveys among the American population, but the importance of public opinion in the battle to maintain not only the credibility of the Mueller investigation, but its efficacy and existence cannot be understated. But the events of today do not guarantee a lasting change of opinion concerning the Mueller investigation among the American populace.
FiveThirtyEight, for example, reported that immediately after the February indictments of 13 Russian nationals, 76% of poll respondents to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election agreed that Russia did interfere. However, in another February poll, 34% of respondents believed that the Mueller investigation was an effort to discredit President Trump.
One cannot think that this is purely an effort to play to Trump's base. By controlling what narrative that they can, Trump and his brigade of sycophants display an unnerving willingness to rile up his main constituency- segments of the American population upon which many elected federal representative in Congress rely. If they prove effective in this tactic, the investigation's independence and any hindrance on the part of Congress can go in a way which no one expects- especially with the November midterms looming just around the corner.
Ultimately, the two events of this day is a good thing. But I preach caution.