What Will Happen When Paul Manafort, the First Likely Russia Domino, Finally Falls?

by Frank Vyan Walton –

There is a certain portion of the population that continues to believe the investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia is simply a partisan witch hunt. They believe that largely because that’s exactly what they’ve been told by Fox News, Breitbart, Trump himself, and his operatives including attorney Michael Cohen, who said as much in his statement to the Senate Intelligence committee this week.

I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack Democratic Party computers; and I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to create fake news stories to assist the Trump campaign or to damage the Clinton campaign.

Given my own proximity to the President of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interferenceing our election or any form of Russian collusion.

As an attorney, I believe justice ought not to be politicized in the United States of America – neither in this Senate office nor in the courts. I’m certain that the evidence at the conclusion of this investigation will reinforce the fact that there was no collusion between Russia, President Trump or me.

I’m also certain that there are some in this country who do not care about the facts, but simply want to politicize this issue, choosing to presume guilt – rather than presuming innocence – so as to discredit our lawfully elected President in the public eye and shame his supporters in the public square … this is un-American.

So his position is essentially that there is nothing to see here. Nothing happened, nobody did anything, nobody saw anybody do anything.

However, there has been some increasing and serious movement with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, particularly involving former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. There was the revelation that he was under a FISA surveillance warrant during the campaign, along with the fact that he was served a no-knock search warrantand told by prosecutors after they seized and searched through his financial records that he was going to be indicted.  

Some reports indicate that Mueller isn’t pursuing this case like any previous special counsel has before. Unlike Kenneth Starr or even Patrick Fitzgerald, he seems to be approaching this like he’s after someone in organized crime. Because perhaps, at least when it comes to Manafort and some of his associates, that may be exactly what they are: Russian mobsters.

That’s considerably more than a big fat nothing.

As Rachel Maddow lays out clearly in this segment, Manafort appears to be in really big, big trouble.

It’s easy to go back even further than Maddow does, to when the Republican National Committee’s platform was changed to pro-Ukrainian by Trump operatives (even though they denied they had anything to do with it at first, until finally admitting that they done it because Trump “didn’t want to go to war over Crimea”). You can actually go all the way back to 2005, when Paul Manafort reportedly wrote a strategy memo to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska letting him know that he had a plan to “help the Putin government.”

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

Just to be clear, Manafort did this illegally, because he failed to register as a foreign agent at the time. In fact, he didn’t finally register until June of this year. The problem now appears to be that Manafort didn’t exactly end this relationship with Deripaska in 2009, when Medvedev became president of the Russian Federation and Putin became prime minister. It seems to have continued.

And there’s also the problem that even without registering under FARA, doing any work for Deripaska was potentially problematic under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Deripaska also faces possible money laundering charges because he’s alleged to have ties to the Russian mafia (although in fairness it should be noted that he later sued the AP for defamation over these claims).

A High Court judgment details the alleged social and business links between Oleg Deripaska and Anton Malevsky, a Russian mobster. Malevsky was then reputedly the head of an organised crime gang and his brother Andrei had a 10% stake in Deripaska’s company. Deripaska insists that the arrangement with Malevsky was a protection racket that was forced upon him. […] Deripaska, the richest Russian businessman in the world before the credit crunch, is unable to travel to America after his visa was withdrawn. The decision was made after a series of allegations in American courts about alleged criminality in his business. These claims are strongly denied by Deripaska, who says courts have ruled the allegations lack “factual support.” […] Malevsky . . . was the leader of the Ismailova gang, one of Russian’s biggest criminal organisations.

Despite Deripaska’s denials of involvement with the mob, the reports we currently have of Manafort’s actions are that he attended a meeting with former Russian prosecutor Natalia Veselnitskaya, who secretly came to Trump Tower to meet with Donald Jr. She brought former Russian Intelligence officer Rinat Ahkmetshin with her, who has been reportedly linked to various acts of corporate hacking, in order to supposedly provide the Trump campaign with “negative information on Hillary Clinton” that would have helped their campaign because that’s something the “Russian Government wanted” to do.

How exactly do you have “no contact with Russians” when you choose to bring two Russians, one of them a former government lawyer and the other an alleged military spy, right into the heart of your campaign?

The alleged former Soviet intelligence officer who attended the now-infamous meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials last June was previously accused in federal and state courts oforchestrating an international hacking conspiracy.

Rinat Akhmetshin told the Associated Press on Friday he accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the June 9, 2016, meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Trump’s attorney confirmed Akhmetshin’s attendance in a statement.

Akhmetshin’s presence at Trump Tower that day adds another layer of controversy to an episode that already provides the clearest indication of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. In an email in the run-up to that rendezvous, Donald Trump Jr. was promised “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Now Donald Jr., who spoke privately with the Senate Judiciary committee last week, claims that “nothing happened here” because they didn’t get the negative information on Clinton that he was offered and the meeting went nowhere after that.

Okay, sure.

But then there is another report that less than one month after that meeting, U.S. intel agencies recorded Russian agents discussing a request for “help” in their campaign by Paul Manafort, who was the third Trump campaign member in that meeting besides Don Jr. and Jared Kushner.

In the summer of 2016, US intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former US officials briefed on the investigation… CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.

That same month, just days before the Republican National Convention that established Trump as the official party nominee, Manafort apparently reached out again to Deripaska and offered to personally brief him on the status of the Trump campaign.

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

Why exactly would he do that?

Just to sum up, Donald Trump has claimed he had “nothing to do with Russians,” that no one in his campaign had “anything to do with Russians.” Trump attorney Cohen has said again:

I never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.

So apparently he never saw that Manafort had a contract with Deripaska to work on behalf of Putin. He never knew that a Russian intel agent who specializes in hacking met with Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner inside Trump Tower in order to offer them negative information on Hillary Clinton (which would have been a violation of FEC rules prohibiting the accepting of anything of value from foreign governments in an election).

He didn’t know that Manafort contacted Russians asking for help on the Trump campaign.

He didn’t know that in July 2016, just 11 days before the RNC, Manafort had offered to give private updates on the status of the Trump campaign through his Ukrainian intermediary Kilminik—who also has ties to Russian Military Intelligence [GRU]—for possible Russian mobster Oleg Deripaska, who had secretly paid Manafort $10 million per year to promote Putin’s agenda in the U.S. and former Soviet Republics (such as Ukraine) between 2006 and 2009 without registering as a foreign agent (because that didn’t happen until June of this year). It’s almost as if Manafort had been a paid Russian asset providing status updates to his longtime “handler” and benefactor Deripaska on behalf of Putin while he was Trump’s campaign chairman.

That’s a whole lot not to know.

All of this was happening before it was generally revealed the Russians did decide to “help” Trump, with both the FSB and GRU hacking into the DNC, DCCC, the Clinton Foundation, and Clinton campaign manager  John Podesta’s email. They then used DCLeaks and WikiLeaks to release the information, and then RT and Sputnik News—whose own former employees have admitted is state-run propaganda and whose current employees have been asked to register as foreign agents—to promote those releases. That was before we knew that Russia was spending $150,000 buying ads on Facebook to help distribute what they stole, to also spread false stories about Clinton, and to sow racial and anti-immigrant resentment which would better energize Trump voters while depressing Democratic turnout for Clinton. It was before we knew there were fake Russian group pages on Facebook that were organizing multiple anti-immigrant rallies around the U.S. It was before we knew there were thousands of cyber bots and hundreds of paid trolls in St. Petersburg re-posting and issuing Facebook and Twitter “likes” to all this stuff so that it trended while targeting it specifically at Democratic districts in red and swing states.

We still don’t know if all those efforts were enough to swing or suppress the 77,000 votes in three states that allowed Trump to squeak through an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote by more than 3 million. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t; that’s no longer the point since nothing can really be done about that.

What we do know is that all of these efforts matched a blueprint on attacking the U.S. election that was laid out by a Putin-friendly think tank, so it wasn’t just random luck: it was a plan. A plan we certainly can’t let anyone get away with or attempt again.

Chances are it’s not just a massive coincidence that Russia happened to do all this pretty much right after the time that Trump changed the RNC platform to be more Russia-friendly, signaling his future intentions. Then Manafort asked for “help” and offered to keep his Putin-friendly Russian pal “briefed” on the Trump campaign. That’s one hand washing the other.

It’s likely that Manafort will be the first Trumpster indicted, or else he will seek an immunity deal, as Michael Flynn and oddly enough Oleg Deripaska have both already attempted to do.

So Manafort could flip and offer to testify that Trump was aware and directly involved in any of the above. Or someone else could theoretically confirm Trump was simply engaged in a massive effort to obstruct the investigation by bullying James Comey into “letting Michael Flynn go,” then firing him in retaliation for his failure to be loyal and not remove the “Russia cloud” from over his head. He could admit to rewriting Donald Jr.’s initial statement about the Veselnitskaya meeting to make it seem about innocuous “adoptions” immediately after having a private, unrecorded, face-to-face dinner meeting with Putin at the G20, who reportedly brought up “adoptions.” Trump adminstration officials have repeatedly attempted to have sanctions lifted that would have benefited Putin and oligarchs like Deripaska, and also would have allowed for the continuation of the three-times stalled Trump Tower Moscow project led by Michael Cohen and Felix Sater that was intended to use Putin to help get Trump elected. But could any of this potentially lead to Trump’s impeachment and removal, or to his indictment after he leaves office? Is it possible, since Felix Sater—a Trump employee and violent convict who also has reported ties to the Russian mob—has said that he and Trump are “going to prison”?

And where, if any of that happens, does that leave the Trumpistas, who’ve essentially given up on our political system by sending Trump to Washington as a wrecking ball? Where do they turn to then?

Would it spark a new Christian civil war, as disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker has said?

According to The Hill, Bakker told audiences of his “Prophecy & End Time News” show that “if [impeachment] happens, there will be a civil war in the United States of America.”

“The Christians will finally come out of the shadows,” Bakker continued, “because we are going to be shut up permanently if we’re not careful.”

Will it be more like what Charles M. Blow has stated?

Steve Bannon-ists see him as a path to the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” All Republicans, but particularly the religious right, see him as a securer of conservative Supreme Court justices. The blue-collar Trump voters view him as a last chance to breathe life into the dying dream that waning industries and government-supported white cultural assurances can be revived. And the white nationalists, white supremacists, racists and Nazis — to the degree that they can be separated from the others — see him as a tool of vengeance and as an instrument of their defense.

Or if Manafort remains defiant and refuses to cooperate, then goes down in flames in court—as his recent calls to have the DOJ inspector general investigate how news of his FISA warrant was released show—will they simply blame him as a heretic who failed their Cheeto Messiah because of his faults and weaknesses, as Corey Lewandowski has suggested?

“I think if anybody, and I’ve said this, if Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, or Rick Gates or Carter Page, or anybody else attempted to influence the outcome of the U.S. election through any means that’s inappropriate — through collusion, coordination, or cooperation — I hope they go to jail for the rest of their lives,” Lewandowski said, as quoted by the Examiner.

Could Trump survive if Manafort takes the prosecutorial bullet for him, as Scooter Libby once did for Dick Cheney?

Perhaps. But Mueller’s obstruction case seems to be working independently of Manafort. And then there’s Michael Flynn and the nearly $600,000 he took from RT, Kaesperski Labs (whose software has just been banned on all government computers due their vulnerability to Russian spies), and Russian oligarchs on behalf of Turkeywithout getting permission from the Pentagon first, being registered as a foreign agent, or declaring any of this income on his security forms. His lying about discussing sanctions with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his deal to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia using a sanctioned Russian weapons company for security, plus Michael Cohen and Felix Sater’s plan to build Trump Tower Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the campaign: any of these could also bring the White House of wet cards down.

Either way, it’s likely we will see Trump supporters take their frustrations out on the media, whom they see as the propaganda arm of the left, with their “stories” always criticizing Trump and tearing him down, and all their Hollywood actors making snide jokes about him. And of course they’ll take it out on the immigrants, and the blacks, and the gays, and those dirty, dirty ISIS-loving Muslims. And of course, we can’t forget their greatest enemy: liberals.

Not that they aren’t already doing that, as we saw in Charlottesville.

If the worst happens for Trump, some of them will certainly turn violent and will continue to ignore any and all forms of reason that show that in the end, Trump will have wrought his own fate with his own tiny, tiny hands. Nobody made him hire Manafort or Flynn, even though he was specifically warned about Flynn by Obama himself.

Some of them will realize the truth as more dominos (such as Donald Jr., Flynn, Kushner, Cohen, or Sater) begin to fall and collapse under the weight of close scrutiny, undermining all of Trump’s foundations, turning them into soft, wet sand beneath his feet.

Unfortunately, we have no real way of knowing which way the majority will break. But it’s scary to think that those who turn to violence could outnumber those who turn to enlightenment.

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos