There Is No Witch Hunt

August 25, 2018

Within a single hour Tuesday, events in federal courts in New York and Virginia incinerated President Donald Trump’s long-running claim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice is a “rigged witch hunt.” In New York, Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight crimes including tax and bank fraud and, most important relative to Trump, two campaign law violations. Cohen, during the campaign in 2016, arranged to pay two women for their silence about affairs they had with Trump. In court Tuesday, he said he did so “in coordination with and at the direction of” the then-candidate. “I participated in this conduct,” he said, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” Documents filed with Cohen’s plea show that he sought a $420,000 reimbursement from the Trump Organization in February 2017. Also Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, a jury former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort guilty on eight of 18 charges that were brought by Mueller, including tax and bank fraud. Mueller has until Wednesday to decide whether to retry Manafort on the 10 charges on which the jury could not reach a verdict, and Mueller faces another trial in September on alleged fraud, witness tampering and unreported activity as a foreign lobbyist. Manafort’s trial was not related to the Russian matter, but evidence of his conduct arose from the Mueller inquiry into that matter. Also Tuesday, but receiving less attention, was that federal prosecutors delayed sentencing for Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who had lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the campaign. That indicates he is cooperating with investigators on that matter. Among other things, the convictions mean that none of those men can claim a Fifth Amendment right not to testify should they be called in criminal trials or congressional hearings, because they no longer face a threat of prosecution. So far, the Mueller investigation has produced seven convictions and indictments of 26 other individuals and three corporations. What that means for Trump is not yet clear, but it is clear that this is no witch hunt.

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