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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Aug 19 – 25, 2018

Too long; didn’t read section

Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight felony charges, with the remaining 10 declared a mistrial due to a lone holdout on the jury who could not explain her “reasonable doubt.” Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to 8 criminal charges in federal court, including 2 campaign finance violations. Cohen stated Trump directed him to break campaign finance law by making hush money payments to Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal.

The chief financial officer of the Trump Org has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors. The Chairman of AMI, parent company of National Enquirer, David Pecker, has been given immunity to testify. Pecker kept a safe full of documents related to the negative stories about Trump that he helped suppress.

New York state investigators have subpoenaed Michael Cohen in their probe into the Trump Foundation. A bipartisan bill that would have significantly helped to secure our nation’s elections has been blocked by the White House. Microsoft discovered and disabled numerous phishing attempts undertaken by the Russian hacking group APT28, targeting U.S. think tanks and the U.S. Senate.

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Mueller Investigation

Manafort guilty. Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight felony charges, with the remaining 10 declared a mistrial. The guilty verdicts included five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. Manafort faces a maximum prison sentence of 80 years, but is likely to face no more than 10. At 69 years of age, even that is a lot.

  • One juror has spoken out since the verdict. Paula Duncan is a Trump supporter who served on the jury. She said she did not want Manafort to be guilty, “but he was, and no one’s above the law.” Duncan stated that there was one juror who prevented Manafort from being found guilty on all counts. “She just couldn’t explain to us why she had reasonable doubt. We could provide her with the information but she wouldn’t change her votes,” Duncan said of the female holdout.
  • Manafort’s next trial is set to begin on September 17 in Washington DC, “with a judge who’s been harsher to Manafort…and where voters overwhelmingly chose not to support Trump in the 2016 election.” This trial will focus on foreign lobbying charges and alleged witness tampering.
  • According to Jim Acosta: “Source close to WH says WH had hoped for favorable verdict in Manafort case as they had plans to attack the Mueller investigation in the event of mistrial or not guilty verdict. The plan was to attack the Mueller investigation if the Manafort case had gone their way, source said.”
  • Hours after the verdict, the press asked Trump his thoughts. “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion,” Trump told reporters. “It’s a witch hunt and a disgrace…Doesn’t involve me but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”

Mueller poll. Following Manafort’s conviction, a Fox News poll revealed an 11-point jump in approval of Mueller’s investigation, with a total of 59% of registered voters approving. Keep in mind, this is a Fox News poll; Mueller’s numbers could well be higher.

Pardons. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told reporters that Trump had sought his lawyers’ advice on pardoning Manafort within the past few weeks. Giuliani stated that they cautioned Trump against pardoning anyone until Mueller’s final report on the president is released. Reportedly, Trump agreed.

McGahn’s interview. Trump is reportedly “unsettled” by McGahn’s interviews with Mueller, unaware that the WH Counsel had spent 30 hours speaking with Mueller’s team and “believing the revelation made him look weak.”

  • While McGahn assured Trump that he did not implicate him in any crimes, Slate published a great piece explaining that the assurance is meaningless “because Trump’s team and Mueller’s team are using different definitions of obstruction of justice.” To summarize, “Trump’s lawyers think obstruction entails a specific, indisputably illegal act.” However, Mueller’s team “can put together several episodes that demonstrate a pattern of ‘corrupt intent’.” The key here is that Trump and Giuliani can’t seem to grasp “ the idea that ulterior motives can make an otherwise legal act corrupt.”

Flynn sentencing. Mueller’s team has again delayed the sentencing of Michael Flynn, perhaps indicating that Flynn is still cooperating with the government. The court expects status reports by September 17.

Michael Cohen

Cohen’s day in court. On Tuesday, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal accounts in a Manhattan federal court. The maximum sentence he faces on all counts is 65 years, but the judge stated the likely sentence will be 46-63 months in prison. Sentencing set for December 12, 2018. Cohen added that Trump directed him to break campaign finance law, putting the president in unprecedented legal jeopardy.

  • The counts were as follows: Five tax evasion charges, covering the period of 2012-2016; One charge of making a false statement to a financial institution, which occurred from February 2015 to April 2016; one charge of knowingly causing an unlawful corporate contribution to a campaign, June 2016 to October 2016; one charge of excessive campaign contribution, October 27, 2016.
  • The final two charges are campaign finance violations related to hush money payments Cohen arranged to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Crucially, Cohen stated in court that the payments were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office…for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” Although Trump is not named, he is clearly the candidate in question.
  • At first, Trump denied any knowledge of the hush payments. Last month, CNN published an audio recording of Cohen and Trump discussing how to buy the rights to Karen McDougal’s story, seemingly proving Trump had contemporaneous knowledge of the payments. However, after Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump told Fox News that he found out about the payments “later on.” He continued that the payments “weren’t taken out of campaign finance…They came from me,” completely missing that he was confessing to a campaign finance violation. If the money had come from the campaign and had been disclosed correctly to the FEC, it would have been legal – but would’ve been publicly disclosed, thus defeating the purpose of such hush money payments.
  • Trump took to Twitter to defend himself and his actions. He praised Manafort for not cooperating with prosecutors, accusing Cohen of “[making] up stories in order to get a ‘deal’.” Trump also brought up a campaign violation committed by Obama’s campaign, implying he was being treated worse than Obama for the same crime. However, the two cases are very different. Obama’s campaign committed unintentional bookkeeping errors, while Trump intentionally broke the law to influence the election.
  • Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, sent a tweet saying: “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?” He later appeared on NBC and MSNBC to proclaim that Cohen would not accept a pardon from Trump and “is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows” about conspiracy to collude and computer hacking in 2016.

National Enquirer. The relationship with AMI revealed in court documents is going to be significant in future investigations into Trump. David Pecker, Chairman of AMI, routinely prevented stories that portrayed Trump in a negative light from being published in the National Enquirer.

  • The day after Cohen’s plea, news broke that David Pecker had been granted immunity by federal prosecutors. Later that day, the AP revealed that the National Enquirer kept a safe “containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed” in the run-up to the 2016 election. Pecker expected favors from Trump in exchange for concealing such damaging stories.
  • A former doorman at Trump World Tower has been released from his contract with AMI. Dino Sajudin claims that he has “knowledge of an alleged affair President Donald Trump had with an ex-housekeeper, which resulted in a child.”

CFO immunity. Federal prosecutors have granted immunity to the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg played a role in reimbursing Cohen for the hush money payments.

  • “Weisselberg’s ties to the president go back decades. He has overseen the Trump Organization’s finances, was treasurer of the Trump Foundation, the president’s charity, and has managed Trump’s private trust alongside the president’s eldest sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.”

Trump Foundation probe. New York state investigators have subpoenaed Michael Cohen in their probe into the Trump Foundation. NY’s attorney general alleges that Trump and his family illegally used their charitable foundation to settle legal disputes, pay personal and business expense, and pay for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump Organization probe. The Manhattan district attorney’s office is looking into filing criminal charges “against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials” for their role in Cohen’s hush payments. These would be state charges, possibly focused on the fact that the Trump Organization recorded the reimbursement payment to Cohen as a legal expense. Falsely listing it as a legal expense could be a felony under state law – and not subject to a pardon from Trump.

Russia Connections

Belarusian escort. You may remember Anastasia Vashukevich, aka Nastya Rybka, from a few months ago; she is a Belarusian model/escort in a Thai jail who claimed to have evidence that proves Russian interference in the 2016 election. Vashukevich appeared in court last week to enter a plea of not guilty to charges of soliciting sex. While there, she told The Associated Press that she had turned over the evidence, in the form of audio recordings, to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

  • Deripaska was allegedly on the recordings discussing Russia’s role in Trump’s election. Vashukevich claims Deripaska had promised her “a little something” in return for not speaking on the matter again. While she originally had appealed to the U.S. for help and asylum, she now claims that it is the Americans, not the Russians, who are persecuting her.


Secure elections blocked. A bipartisan bill that would have significantly helped to secure our nation’s elections has been blocked by the White House. The Secure Elections act would have given state’s important threat information, formalize information-sharing with the federal government, and would mandate that every state conduct an audit after elections, incentivizing voter machines that leave a paper trail. The White House claimed it opposed the legislation because it removed power from the Department of Homeland Security.

Helsinki notes. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats are requesting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provide the translator’s notes from the Trump-Putin meeting at Helsinki. They’ve additionally requested “any cable traffic, memos, notes and policy directives” related to the summit.

Microsoft phishing. Microsoft discovered and disabled numerous phishing attempts undertaken by the Russian hacking group APT28, targeting U.S. think tanks and the U.S. Senate. The think tanks that were targeted are conservative, pro-democracy, and anti-Putin. Microsoft did not reveal further details about the Senate targets.

Bolton’s Butina Connection. Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings and Stephen Lynch wrote a letter to chief of staff John Kelly, pushing for records related to National Security Adviser John Bolton and his work with alleged Russian agent Maria Butina. They are interested in finding out if “Bolton reported his previous work with this alleged Russian spy on his security clearance forms or other White House vetting materials…”

  • In 2013, when Bolton served as the head of an NRA subcommittee, he recorded a video with Butina promoting gun rights in Russia. Bolton also took part in a roundtable organized by Butina.

DMV closures. Texas is proposing to close 87 driver’s license offices to “reduce wait times.” This is an important issue because Texas has voter ID laws – the 87 offices are largely located in rural, poor areas where residents are unable to travel long distances for an ID, and thus will be prevented from voting.


Steele wins. The Trump-Russia dossier author, Christopher Steele, has won a libel case that was filed against him in U.S. court by three Russian oligarchs. The case was thrown out by a judge in DC on Monday.