Manafort pleads guilty, to cooperate with Mueller investigation

Signalled yesterday, confirmed today (Friday US time) – Paul Manafort, who was soon to face further charges, has entered a guilty plea after a deal of “full cooperation” with  prosecutors investigating whether any Trump associates played a role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Manafort already faces a possible lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty on eight counts of federal tax and banking crimes last month.

Fox News:  Paul Manafort pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in deal with Mueller team

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty in federal court Friday as part of a plea agreement that involves cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and allows him to avoid a second trial.

“I plead guilty,” Manafort, 69, told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman in Washington.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge that Manafort’s deal includes a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, who are investigating whether any Trump associates played a role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That could include interviews with prosecutors and testifying in court.

A defense attorney for Manafort told Fox News the deal includes “full cooperation.”

Manafort, in a trial set to begin Sept. 24, had been facing seven counts of foreign lobbying violations and witness tampering in federal court in Washington.

Manafort faces up to 10 years on these charges in Washington.

Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters after the court hearing it was a “tough day” for his client, “who has accepted responsibility.” He said Manafort “wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”

The case was brought by Mueller’s team, which is probing potential crimes related to the 2016 election. But Manafort has not been charged with anything related to the campaign.

There were the predictable denials and distancing from Trump spokespeople:

“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement to Fox News. “The reason: the president did nothing wrong.”

Bloomberg: Mueller Wins Manafort’s Cooperation in Plea Deal

The White House, which has repeatedly played down Manafort’s role on the campaign, responded to news of his guilt. “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated,” said Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary.

Perhaps this is because Trump is innocent of any electoral crime. Perhaps thou doth protest too much.

Manafort certainly worked with at least one foreign government (before he worked for Trump).

After a year of withering financial pressure and a jury conviction in another case, Manafort admitted Friday that he laundered more than $30 million earned over a decade while working as a consultant for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, cheated the U.S. government of $15 million in taxes and tampered with a witness.

As part of his plea, Manafort admitted that he conspired to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not telling the Justice Department about a multimillion-dollar campaign to improve the image of Yanukovych and his Party of Regions in Europe and the U.S. Prominent U.S. firms like the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs LLC were hired to help him, along with several European former elected officials.

Manafort organized the European politicians, known as the Hapsburg Group, to lobby U.S. senators in a campaign to defeat a resolution that criticized Yanukovych’s treatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was convicted and imprisoned. Manafort never told the senators that the lobbyists or Hapsburg Group members were paid by Ukraine.

In May 2013, one Hapsburg Group member met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. They also met with senior U.S. officials in the executive and legislative branches, according to the filing.

One of the potential witnesses against Manafort was Sam Patten, who pleaded guilty on Aug. 31 to failing to register as a Ukrainian agent. He also helped a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch gain access to Trump’s inauguration.

Manafort’s legal team had repeatedly challenged Mueller’s authority to investigate business activities related to Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign. Prosecutors said they had to examine whether Russia-backed politicians and oligarchs served as a back channel to members of the Trump campaign.

The investigation looked at such interactions “before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications,” prosecutors wrote. “And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting activities.”

Prosecutors will ask Manafort about his months running Trump’s campaign. In June 2016, he attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Kremlin-backed attendees promised to offer damaging information about Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the meeting.

Manafort faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. Perhaps he still will, but hoovering over this is the possibility that Trump will pardon him.

As part of his guilty plea, Manafort agreed to brief prosecutors, produce documents and testify if warranted. Asked by the judge whether he understood that his deal with the government required him to cooperate “fully and truthfully,” Manafort replied, “I do.”

Trump may (or may not) be innocent of anything, but some of his family at least may be feeling a tad more nervous now that Manafort has agreed to full cooperation with the Mueller investigation.

More US views (from RealClear Politics):

Lame predictable responses from Trump under increasing pressure

Donald Trump is facing increasing pressures after Paul Manafort and especially Michael Cohen are now guilty of fairly serious crimes, and face years in prison. Manafort was locked up before his trial, and Cohen has made an agreement with prosecutors of a 4-6 year prison sentence.

Manafort has kept a distance between his problems and Trump, and Trump has done likewise.

Not so Cohen, who along with his lawyer has directly implicated Trump in electoral crime. So Trump has been predictable in attacking Cohen on Twitter in response, attack is his usual form of defence.

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!

A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!

The ‘witch hunt’ claims are getting stale. Eight guilty verdicts, on top of other successes, are signs of a successful Mueller investigation so far.

Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!

Either ignorance or lying about the campaign finance violations, and then the usual diversion to another target.

Mueller and various investigators won’t care about what Trump tweets, unless they gather than as further evidence. The President is flailing futilely on Twitter.

Fox News kept cheerleading Trump yesterday on Twitter and via sycophants like Hannity, but also looked at the serious side of what Trump faces.

Their current headline article:

Will Cohen’s bombshell admissions sink Trump? Here’s what top legal experts say

UNCOMMON PLEAS

Will Cohen’s bombshell admissions sink Trump? Here’s what top legal experts say

Michael Cohen’s plea deal chucked a live political grenade into the debate over President Trump’s legal exposure – but that debate is far from settled, as experts clash over whether his implication of the president in campaign finance violations will amount to anything.

The president’s former longtime personal attorney and self-described “fixer” entered a guilty plea with federal prosecutors on Tuesday, admitting to violating campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump.

Trump, though, claimed the move to pay off the two women was not a crime — while suggesting such allegations can be settled by fine.

Trump has now notably not denied the payments were made, and has switched to claiming it isn’t a crime and it can be easily settled.

But Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, argued there is little room for interpretation here.

“There is no question that he’s committed a federal crime,” Davis told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Wednesday. He also argued that it’s never been settled whether a sitting president can be indicted, despite suggestions to the contrary from Trump allies.

Davis added that his client, under oath on Tuesday, admitted to making the “donations to keep quiet two women” at Trump’s direction.

Mr. Trump wasn’t willing to sign those checks himself. He directed Mr. Cohen to make those hush money payments, [which is] a federal crime,” Davis said. “If Michael Cohen agreed to that, then certainly Donald Trump is guilty of the same crime.”

But Fox found people who backed Trump’s claim.

But former commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, Hans von Spakovsky, said that Cohen’s decision to plead guilty does not necessarily mean Trump violated the law.

“This is not a violation because this was not a campaign-related offense,” Spakovsky told Fox News on Wednesday. “Yes, Cohen pleaded guilty to it, yeah Cohen paid it, but then Cohen was reimbursed by Trump.”

The plea deal states that the payments were in fact meant to influence the election, though that could be argued by Trump’s lawyers if it ever came to that. Spakovsky said Trump had a history of making these kinds of payments before he was a candidate.

Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, a frequent defender of the president, made a similar argument.

“You have to show that it’s a crime,” he told “Fox & Friends.” He said it’s “not a crime” for a candidate like Trump to contribute to his own campaign, and probably not even a crime to direct someone else to contribute if he plans to pay that back.

Further, Dershowitz said, “The only evidence that the president did anything that might be unlawful … comes from a man who’s admitted to be a liar.”

“There are a lot of barriers,” he said, “We’re far away from [an] impeachable offense or a criminal offense on the part of the president.”

Still, at this stage, it doesn’t look flash for Trump. His denials keep changing as information is revealed.

Who can trust Trump’s claims there was ‘no collusion’. He’s well known as a liar, and has just been proven to have lied again over the hush money.

Richard Painter, former White House chief ethics counsel under former President George W. Bush, said that while Cohen’s guilty plea gives Trump “exposure” to criminal prosecution, these types of cases “can be difficult to win.”

“It is not entirely clear how these cases turn out, as we found out with Edwards,” Painter told Fox News. He added, though, that he felt the Cohen-Trump payments were “more serious” than former President Bill Clinton lying about Monica Lewinsky, as “campaign finance is more important to our democracy than the president lying under oath in a civil case.”

Painter added that while there is “potential criminal liability,” it is “not cut and dry.” He suggested Trump’s problems go beyond Cohen.

“If you had a president with no other legal problems, who just had the Cohen problem, I would say the outcome of a criminal trial for Trump, based on that alone, is a maybe, maybe not situation,” Painter explained.

“But Trump’s problem is not just this. He has the whole Russia thing. He has two big problems. One, is what his own involvement or knowledge of collusion was, and the second, where he has much more exposure, and is digging his own grave, is obstruction of justice.”

The Paul Manafort guilty verdicts were distant enough to Trump’s campaign to be easy to dismiss as just a poor choice of campaign manager – if they were the only thing in the news.

But added to the Cohen please and claims, and all the other guilty please and bargaining, Trump’s legal problems are snowballing. His persistent lying peppers the snowball with stones.

Professor of law at George Washington University Jonathan Turley, though, said Trump could end up an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Cohen matter.

On Wednesday, he agreed that the Cohen plea alone would not make “a particularly strong case,” but suggested there’s more to come.

“You have the president’s lawyer implicating him in a federal crime. How Trump responds to that is going to be very key,” Turley said on “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday. “But the Justice Department certifies that they believe these allegations are accurate. That should be quite chilling, because this isn’t some immaculate crime committed by Cohen alone.”

Turley said that federal prosecutors, now, will likely pursue other “collateral or central players.”

This is only an escalation in legal exposure for Trump. The snowball keeps growing, and his tweets are legally impotent, and potentially legally damaging.

Cohen, Manafort guilty, increased jeopardy for Trump

The Jury in the Paula Manafort trial returning eight guilty verdicts was bad for Manafort, who could also face retrial on the other ten charges and has another trial booked in next month on yet more charges.

On it’s own I don’t think it would have been particularly bad for Donald Trump, despite him having had Manafort manage his campaign for three months in 2016. The offending was prior to this association.

But there was a near simultaneous double whammy, with Trump’ ex personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to eight charges in an agreement with prosecutors that will ‘limit’ his sentence to somewhere between four and six years in prison.

This on top of the Manafort verdicts looks bad for Trump, with the total whammy amounting to more than the sum of the parts.

And it gets worse, as Cohen has implicated trump in illegal actions during the election campaign.

Fox News: Michael Cohen admits violating campaign finance laws in plea deal, agrees to 3-5 year sentence

The precise range of sentence varies in reports, but it’s somewhere around that. For someone with no priors, used to a good standard of living and with a young family, that is a substantial penalty.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, admitted Tuesday to violating federal campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump.

In entering the plea, Cohen did not specifically name the two women or even Trump, recounting instead that he worked with an “unnamed candidate.” But the amounts and the dates all lined up with the payments made to Daniels and McDougal.

In a statement, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen. It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”

Guilani seems to be fibbing or mistaken. Trump wasn’t named as co-conspirator in court, but he was by Cohen’s lawyer afterwards.

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said his client had pleaded guilty “so that his family can move on to the next chapter.

“This is Michael fulfilling his promise made on July 2nd to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump,” Davis added. “Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

Separately, Davis told Fox News that Cohen’s involvement in the Trump-Russia investigation does not end with the plea deal, but in fact “it is only the beginning.”

Davis added that Cohen will speak with whoever is investigating the president to make sure the truth about Trump gets out.

Cohen has been labelled a rat by Trump supporters, so they are obviously concerned about where this might go.

MSNBC:  Cohen more than happy to tell Mueller all that he knows: attorney

Lanny Davis, attorney for former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen, tells Rachel Maddow that Cohen has knowledge that should be of interest to Robert Mueller and he is happy to tell Mueller what he knows…

“Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows”.

“Not just about the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election, which the Trump Tower meeting was all about, but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”

So Trump may be sweating on that for a while, until Cohen reveals everything he knows, and until Mueller plays his next legal hand. It looks certain that this saga is far from at it’s conclusion.

This puts Trump in potentially very tricky position. I doubt he will be charged or any serious attempt will be made to impeach him while president, but it must be getting increasingly difficult for Republicans to continue supporting Trump or tolerating his fecklessness and recklessness, especially those who face mid term elections in November.

There will be some interest in how Trump responds on Twitter overnight. He has been becoming more verbose with his claims, fibs and attacks lately – this could push him further, or he could heed advice and at least become somewhat more cautious.

Manafort trial judge has received threats

The jury in the Paul Manafort trial are still deliberating. There’s a pile of papers and 18 charges so it’s not surprising it is taking a while to arrive at verdicts.

In a bizarre twist the trial judge says there have been threats made against him.

NBCNews:  Judge in Paul Manafort trial says he has gotten threats

District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, who is overseeing the bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, said Friday that he has received threats that necessitate U.S. marshal protection to and from the courthouse.

“I had no idea that this case would excite these emotions, I will tell you that frankly,” Ellis told the court as the jury, which was not present for his comments, deliberated for a second day. The case is being tried in Alexandria, Virginia.

Ellis’s admission came during an afternoon hearing brought by a coalition of media outlets, including NBC News, to unseal juror names and bench conference transcripts of conversations the judge has had with the defense and the prosecution.

Ellis refused to reveal the names of the jurors because he fears they would face similar threats — without being afforded the same protections.

“I have no reason to believe that, if those names are unsealed, there won’t be threats against them,” he said.

Ellis also said he would not unseal the one bench conference related to the ongoing investigation, because he did not want to interfere in it, though at the conclusion of the case, he will unseal transcripts related to the administration of the jury.

Manafort is facing 18 charges of tax and banking fraud, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors have painted Manafort as a liar who hid millions from U.S. tax authorities in overseas accounts for years, while Manafort’s attorneys sought to paint him as a talented political consultant who had served several elected officials, including Trump, while pinning the blame for any wrongdoing on Rick Gates, Manafort’s former protégé and the key witness against him.

Threatening a trial judge is a very serious allegation.

US democratic dysfunction continues

Facebook says it has identified further attempts to use social media to interfere with US elections, while Robert Mueller has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York – as this involves people associated with Democrats as well as Republicans President Trump should at least be partially supportive of legally confronting the swamp.

NY Times: Facebook Identifies an Active Political Influence Campaign Using Fake Accounts

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.

The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The dream of the Internet enabling a revolution in ordinary people involvement in democracy has become an electoral nightmare in the US.

And we are not immune from it in New Zealand, but the greatest risk here is probably self inflicted wounds by ‘social justice warriors’ and political activists trying to impose their views and policies on everyone else, and trying to shut down speech they don’t like or they disagree with.

Also in the US, illicit foreign lobbying is in the spotlight with the trial of Paul Manafort under way – Manafort on trial: A scorched-earth prosecutor and not a mention of Trump

The nation’s inaugural look at special counsel Mueller’s team in action started with a bang. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, brought onto the special counsel’s staff from the Alexandria federal prosecutor’s office for this case, faced the jury and declared: “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him.”

With more than a dozen of his colleagues from the federal investigation alongside and behind him, Asonye recovered quickly, keeping jurors riveted through a 26-minute opening statement that portrayed Manafort as someone who lied about his taxes, his income, his business, and a litany of other topics.

Only once, toward the end of the first day, did anyone mention the words “special counsel.” Zehnle said it, casually, in passing, with no reference to Trump or Russia or any of the political firestorm that has dominated the news for all of this presidency.

Yet the reason the courtroom was packed, the reason an overflow courtroom three stories below was also full, the reason the lawn in front of the building was given over to TV crews in their ritual encampment awaiting news, the reason for all of this was the cases yet to come, the deeper layers of the onion.

And three more lobbyists are also under investigation – Mueller Passes 3 Cases Focused on Illicit Foreign Lobbying to Prosecutors

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York who are already handling the case against President Trump’s former lawyer, according to multiple people familiar with the cases.

The cases cut across party lines, focusing on both powerful Democratic and Republican players in Washington, including one whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted — the Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta. The cases are unlikely to provoke an outburst from Mr. Trump similar to the one he unleashed in April after prosecutors raided the home and office of Michael D. Cohen, then the president’s lawyer. But these cases do represent a challenge to Washington’s elite, many of whom have earned rich paydays lobbying for foreign interests.

They also tie into the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump: All three cases are linked to Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, whose trial on financial fraud charges began Tuesday in Alexandria, Va.

Under American law, anyone who lobbies or conducts public relations on behalf of a foreign interest in the United States must register with the Justice Department. The law carries stiff penalties, including up to five years in prison. But it had rarely been enforced, and thus widely ignored, until recently.

Trump should be happy that the political swamp of Washington is at least under scrutiny, albeit a long way from being drained.

Image result for monster swamp washington

The jury is still out on whether Trump is going to monster the swamp, or if he is a monster of the swamp.

But it is obvious that dysfunction in US democracy is a long way from being rectified, if that is at all possible.

 

Manafort heading to jail as bail is revoked

Paul Manafort looks to be headed to jail with his bail revoked as he faces charges as a result of the Mueller inquiry.

Reuters: Manafort pleads not guilty to witness-tampering charges, judge weighs revoking bail

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty on Friday to new witness tampering charges brought by the special counsel investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Manafort appeared at an arraignment before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington on the new charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week. Jackson on Friday was also weighing whether to revoke Manafort’s current bail conditions and send him to jail because of the fresh allegations against him.

After the hearing: Judge Orders Paul Manafort Jailed Before Trial, Citing New Obstruction Charges

A federal judge revoked Paul Manafort’s bail and sent him to jail on Friday to await trial, citing new charges that Mr. Manafort had tried to influence the testimony of two of the government’s witnesses after he had been granted bail.

Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, had posted a $10 million bond and was under house arrest while awaiting his September trial on a host of charges, including money laundering and false statements.

But Judge Amy Berman Jackson of United States District Court for the District of Columbia said Mr. Manafort could not remain free, even under stricter conditions, in the face of new felony charges that he had engaged in witness tampering while out on bail. “This is not middle school,” she said during a 90-minute court hearing. “I can’t take away his cellphone.”

Trump responded on Twitter:

It’s not a sentence. Manafort is one of the first to be charged, that probably makes him just one of the mobsters being leaned on to compromise those further up the chain.

And the just released Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election by the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice states:

“The Midyear team concluded that such proof (of crimes by Clinton) was lacking. We found that this interpretation of (the law) was consistent with the Department’s historical approach in prior cases under different leadership, including in the 2008 decision not to prosecute former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for mishandling classified documents.”

Trump can tweet all he likes, that is not going to change what happens in the courts – unless it compromises him.

Trump’s ‘absolute right’ and the Russian investigation

The Mueller investigation into possible interference in the US election in 2016 continues, as does denials and diversions by Donald Trump and his legal team. Trump’s assertion of absolute power has raised further concerns. They may or may not be seriously suggesting Trump would pardon himself, but it is further muddying and murking the issue.

NY Times: Trump and His Lawyers Embrace a Vision of Vast Executive Power

President Trump, ramping up his assertions of extraordinary powers, declared in a tweet on Monday that he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime.

While no president has ever attempted to pardon himself, and it is not clear whether Mr. Trump could legitimately take such a step, the president’s claim was the latest in an aggressive series of moves to assert his control over federal law enforcement.

Last month, Mr. Trump crossed a traditional line by ordering an investigation into the Russia investigators. And late last year he boasted he has “an absolute right to do what I want to with the Justice Department.”

The president has had help in shaping his expansive view of his authority: For at least a year, his lawyers in the investigation into whether he tried to obstruct the Russia inquiry have been advising the president that he wields sweeping constitutional powers to impede investigations no matter his motive — and despite obstruction-of-justice laws that everyone else must obey.

Meanwhile a pardon is being sought for one of those already arrested.

The Hill: Papadopoulos’s wife asks Trump to pardon her husband in Mueller probe

The wife of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos on Monday appealed to President Trump to pardon her husband, who pleaded guilty last year in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that her husband was “dedicated and committed” to the Trump campaign. She said his “freedom is challenged” after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last October amid the probe into Russia’s election interference.

“So I trust and hope and ask to President Trump to pardon him. I hope he will,” she said.

It would not only raise legal and constitutional eyebrows if Papadopoulos was pardoned given Trump’s dumping him under a bus last November:

Papadopoulos is one of at least four former Trump associates to plead guilty or be indicted as part of Mueller’s probe.The White House denied in March that it was considering pardons for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort or former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who were both implicated in Mueller’s investigation.

Meanwhile things look murkier for Manafort.

CBS News: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team accuses Paul Manafort of witness tampering

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made several attempts to tamper with witnesses in his ongoing criminal cases, prosecutors said Monday. They have also asked a federal judge to consider revoking his house arrest.

In a court filing, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller wrote that Manafort and one of his associates “repeatedly” contacted two witnesses in an effort to influence their testimony. The contacts occurred earlier this year, shortly after a grand jury returned a new indictment against Manafort and while he was confined to his home.

“Manafort’s obstructive conduct … instills little confidence that restrictions short of detention will assure Manafort’s compliance with the court’s orders and prevent him from committing further crimes,” the filing states.

According to the court filing, Manafort began messaging and calling one of the witnesses in February shortly after a federal grand jury in Washington returned a superseding indictment against him that included allegations of unregistered lobbying related to the Hapsburg Group.

Manafort messaged and called one of the witnesses the day after his co-defendant and business partner, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty and continued reaching out over the next several days, according to a sworn affidavit filed by an FBI agent in the case.

It wouldn’t be a good look pardoning obstruction of justice.

It’s odd that the issue of self-pardoning has come up – if he has done nothing wrong there would be nothing to pardon.

I would have thought that if Trump was really innocent of collusion as he claims he would welcome the Mueller investigation clearing things up.

Pressure mounts in US Russian investigation

Last week’s indictment of Russian nationals was just one step in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US elections in 2016. Another move is forecast to unfold shortly:

LA Times: Former Trump aide Richard Gates to plead guilty; agrees to testify against Manafort, sources say

A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.

The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,” said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington “within the next few days.”

Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.

The imminent change of Gates’ plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller’s prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.

According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect “a substantial reduction in his sentence” if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said Gates is likely to serve about 18 months in prison.

If Gates has negotiated down to 18 months prison he must have faced serious charges with strong evidence against him.

The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that Manafort and Gates — who were colleagues in political consulting for about a decade — had engaged in a complex series of allegedly illegal transactions rooted in Ukraine. The indictment alleged that both men, who for years were unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.

According to the indictment, Gates and Manafort “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and took steps to evade related U.S. taxes.

If Manafort maintains his not-guilty plea and fights the charges at a trial, the testimony from Gates could provide Mueller’s team with first-person descriptions of much of the allegedly illegal conduct. Gates’ testimony, said a person familiar with the pending guilty plea, would place a “cherry on top” of the government’s already formidable case against Manafort.

And this will place more pressure on Manafort.

Again this says nothing about possible Trump knowledge or involvement. One possibility is that members of his campaign team colluded with Russians without Trump’s knowledge. There were always going to be risks rapidly assembling a campaign team when many experienced Republican campaigners didn’t want to be involved.

Trump campaign officials charged, Trump protests

The first indictments in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US election reveal charges have been laid against three people who worked on the Trump campaign, but Trump insists there was ‘NO COLLUSION!’

Fox News leads with Trump denials: Trump, GOP lawmakers slam Manafort indictment as irrelevant to Russia-collusion probe

The president fired back on Monday in an attempt to distance his White House from the Manafort and Gates indictments, noting their crimes were committed “years” before they worked on the campaign.

Washington Post leads with Three former Trump campaign officials charged in Russia probe

George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner who claimed to have high-level Russian connection. The agreement was unsealed Monday.

News of the plea came as Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges related to their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

Fox News continues with diversion and downplaying Trump:

And also details of the charges:

EXPLAINED: How Paul Manafort is connected to the Trump, Russia investigation

It’s been more than a year since Paul Manafort briefly led President Trump’s quest for the White House and even longer since he worked for a controversial Ukrainian politician.

The opening paragraph downplays the Trump connection.

Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates, 45, were told to turn themselves into federal authorities Monday morning. First reported by the New York Times, these are reportedly the first charges filed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 president election.

Manafort and Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury that contains 12 counts: conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading [Foreign Agents Registration Act] statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, a spokesperson for the Special Counsel’s Office told Fox News.

Manafort, 68, has been the subject of a longstanding investigation due to his past dealings in Ukraine several years ago – for which he didn’t file as a foreign agent until June 2017. But Mueller has incorporated that investigation into his own probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump associates.

Eventually, Manafort was hired by controversial former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician who was ousted from power twice. After Yanukovych was eventually elected president in 2010, Manafort reportedly stayed on as an adviser and worked with other projects in Eastern Europe, including the Party of Regions political party.

Manafort also worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. In 2005, Manafort came up with a plan to influence U.S. politics, business dealings and the media in order to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” according to the Associated Press.

Deripaska, 49, is a close Putin ally and signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort in 2006. They maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, the Associated Press reported.

Financial records obtained by the New York Times indicated that Manafort was in debt to pro-Russian interests by up to $17 million prior to joining Trump’s campaign.

Along with Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskay in June 2016. She was said to have damaging information on Trump’s campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, which was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Mueller took over the criminal investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings as he looks into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the White House.

Trump and the Russia investigation: What to know

Before he handed over the White House to Trump, former President Barack Obama sanctioned Russia for its alleged involvement in the election – a move that would eventually come back to dismantle one of Trump’s senior aides.

Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also got the administration into hot water for his own actions during the campaign. Trump Jr. confirmed in July 2017 that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign as she was supposed to have damaging information about Clinton.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were at the meeting as well. The two are also being investigated.

Michael Flynn’s tenure as Trump’s national security adviser was short but rife with controversy that still bedevils the administration. But Flynn didn’t come without a warning.

Only a few days after the November election, Obama met with Trump to share his concerns about Flynn, a retired lieutenant general. Flynn had served under Obama as head of military intelligence until he was fired in 2014 following reports of insubordination and questionable management style.

As Obama issued the sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the election, Flynn reportedly called the Russian ambassador to discuss the move. Flynn initially denied speaking to the ambassador, but when intelligence officials revealed proof, he said he just didn’t remember speaking on that topic.

Flynn resigned under harsh scrutiny for misleading the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his ties to and conversations with Russian officials.

He remains under multiple investigations by congressional committees and the Pentagon’s inspector general. Mueller has included Flynn in his probe, and his investigators are reportedly trying to determine if he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the campaign, the New York Times reported in August.

So this is likely just the first shots fired by the Mueller investigation.

Last word from Trump, in typical trump fashion:

The president led a chorus of critics of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, noting that the crimes for which Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, are charged appear to predate the presidential campaign by years.

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Trump tweeted Monday. “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Perhaps the President doth protest too much.

Dirty democracy: Clinton, Trump, Russia

Investigations and revelations continue on dirty democracy involving the US and Russia.

The use of Facebook by Russians continues – CNBC: House panel plans to release Russian ads that ran on Facebook, committee leaders say

The House Intelligence Committee plans to release Russia-linked ads that ran on Facebook during the 2016 election, the panel’s leaders said Wednesday, according to NBC News.

The House committee is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., are leading the probe.

Facebook has already shared about 3,000 ads bought by Russia-linked groups with the congressional committees investigating the Russian influence campaign.

Google also has discovered that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its platforms, according to reports.

Recode:  Facebook admits Russia agents used Messenger to disrupt U.S. presidential election

A top Facebook executive admitted Wednesday that Russian agents had used the social network’s popular Messenger platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus disclosed that a “very small” number of the 470 accounts active in the Russian interference campaign were using Messenger to communicate with their users.

Messenger was reportedly used by some pages with ties to Russian operatives. Marcus, like other Facebook executives, argued that the work done by Facebook around the world was being wrongly “overshadowed” by the Russia “narrative.”

Investigations continue into possible links between the trump campaign and Russians.

Newsweek: DID TRUMP FAMILY, ASSOCIATES BREAK LAW WITH RUSSIA? A GUIDE TO POTENTIAL SUSPECTS IN MUELLER’S PROBE

It has been a big few days in the ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and possibly collude with Donald Trump’s campaign. The president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has appeared before multiple congressional committees…

Paul Manafort: At the same time, the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is delving deeper into Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.

This week, it was reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, in conjunction with Mueller, is investigating Manafort for money laundering. It is widely believed that Mueller aims to use the money laundering charges to flip Manafort and turn him into a witness against Trump.

Roger Stone: A longtime adviser to Trump, Stone boasted during the campaign that he was in communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before that outfit released emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Stone has also confirmed that he exchanged messages with a hacker believed to be responsible for attacking the Democratic National Committee.

NBC:  Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple US officials tell NBC Nightly News.

And the Clinton campaign is also reported to be close to Russia in it’s dirty campaigning too – Washington Post: Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

So both the Republicans and then the Clinton campaign have had Russian connections in what appears to have been a particularly dirty campaign.

The US and Russia have interfered in other democracies for a long time, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Russia has tried to interfere in the US election, and both sides have had connections to Russia in conducting their campaigns.

Vanity Fair: THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT THE STEELE DOSSIER

On many levels, the Post story merely confirms earlier reports about Steele’s backers. The same day that BuzzFeed published the dossier in its entirety, CNN confirmed much of Corn’s earlier reporting. “The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats,” Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein wrote. (As Howard Blum recently reported for Vanity Fair, the funding for the research originally came from a “Never Trump” Republican but not specifically from the war chest of one of Trump’s rivals in the G.O.P. primary, according to a friend of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.)

The involvement of Clinton and the D.N.C. in funding the Steele dossier is not surprising, but it does add fuel to the partisan fire. “I have to say, the whole Russian thing is what it’s turned out to be,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday morning. “This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election.” Conservative pundits and commentators celebrated on Twitter, seeing in the Post story validation of their arguments that the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia were overblown, if not fabricated.

Complicating matters is the fact that Fusion GPS has also worked with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who attended the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Clinton as part of what was described to him as a Russian government effort to help elect his father.

It is all extremely messy.

It has become a very dirty democracy in the US, with mud covered credibility. I don’t know if it is repairable.

The end result so far is the Trump presidency that risks becoming an increasingly disastrous train wreck.