Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full-court press on anyone and everyone involved with the Trump campaign has finally begun – and the first target in his sights is, of course, former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, by far the easiest mark. According to Reuters, Mueller and his team are trying to recruit Manafort as a cooperating witness in the Russia investigation in exchange for immunity for possible money laundering charges.
The focus on Manafort isn't a surprise. Not only did Manafort attend the now-infamous June 2016 Russia meeting organized by Donald Trump Jr., but investigators have already been scrutinizing his ties to deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, along with several shady real-estate deals.
“U.S. investigators examining money laundering accusations against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort hope to push him to cooperate with their probe into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia, two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is examining Manafort's financial and real estate records in New York as well as his involvement in Ukrainian politics, the officials said.”
Specifically, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is investigating several New York City real estate deals involving Manafort for evidence that the properties might have been paid for with money funneled to Manafort by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The former Ukrainian leader hired Manafort’s firm to do political consulting work. Last summer, ledgers found by Ukrainian investigators surfaced purporting to show millions of dollars in undisclosed payments to Manafort’s firm, though they haven’t been proved genuine.
According to Reuters' anonymous presumably government sources, Manafort bought three NYC properties between 2006 and 2013, arousing suspicion from then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who had been looking into the source of Manafort’s funds up until he was fired by President Donald Trump, along with dozens of other Obama-appointed US attorneys.
“Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three New York properties, including one in Trump Tower in Manhattan. He paid for them in full and later took out mortgages against them. A former senior U.S. law enforcement official said that tactic is often used as a means to hide the origin of funds gained illegally. Reuters has no independent evidence that Manafort did this.”
Because collusion isn't a specific crime, obtaining evidence that could justify a criminal charge against Manafort is believed to be crucial if the government wants to turn him against President Donald Trump, or another figure involved in the campaign, Reuters noted.
"If Mueller's team can threaten criminal charges against Manafort, they could use that as leverage to convince him to cooperate," said one of the sources.
This should be obvious to anyone who’s at all familiar with the workings of the US criminal justice system. But what’s infuriating about this strategy is that the threatened charges don’t necessarily need to be related to Manafort’s activities as Trump’s campaign manager. Apart from the fact that one of the properties was a condo in Trump Tower, Manafort’s dealings with Yanukovych have nothing to do with Trump – yet hysterical liberals, and now maybe the DOJ, will fixate on the optics of the situation without regarding the facts.
Not to mention that Manafort was forced out of the Trump campaign after only two months because of his dealings with Yanukovych.
Manafort’s representatives denied assertions that he is already cooperating with Mueller’s team. His spokesman, Jason Maloni, said, “Paul Manafort is not a cooperating witness. Once again there is no truth to the disinformation put forth by anonymous sources and leakers.”
Mueller is focusing on the Trump associates involved in the June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Senior Adviser to the President and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort. Kushner has risked losing his security clearance for failing to disclose meetings with certain Russian officials, and Don Jr. set up the meeting with Veselnitskaya and her associates, responding enthusiastically to publicist Rob Goldstone’s claim that Trump would be given damaging opposition research on Hillary Clinton that was compiled by Russian intelligence, answering an email with the now-famous line “if it’s what you say it is, then I love it.”
Manafort and Trump Jr. have managed to put off a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee by agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session. But their day in the spotlight likely can’t be avoided indefinitely. In the meantime, presuming Mueller comes up short in his investigation into Manafort, we wonder who the special counsel will put the screws to next?