Tuesday marks the start, with jury selection, of one of Paul Manafort’s two trials –- this one in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia, the other in Washington DC. The jury pool will be very different for these two trials, and the judges may be, too. In pre-trial hearings in Virginia, Judge T. S. Ellis III made it clear he knows why special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing Manafort so relentlessly; he’s seen prosecutors apply pressure to get witnesses to “sing,” or even “compose.” We all know Mueller is after bigger fish; namely, the Orange Trumpy, known for its brazen behavior and thick skin.
Manafort surely has endured much pressure. He and his wife were awakened, pre-dawn, by armed officials for a search of their home. While awaiting trial on charges totally unrelated to the Trump campaign, he’s been treated like a convicted criminal, held in solitary for 23 hours of every day. That’s when suspects typically start “composing.”
You know, Manafort might be guilty of these years-old charges. We don’t know what evidence will be brought against him; reportedly, over 35 people are on the witness list, five of whom have received immunity. In the Virginia trial, he’s charged with laundering over $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting fees and hiding it from the IRS. There will likely be testimony about his lavish lifestyle –- his Mercedes, pricey property, finely tailored suits, and high-end furnishings and art. Maybe he’s a smart businessman who profited from legal investments. If that’s true, let’s hope his nightmare –- which, it must be said, started because he dared to help elect Donald Trump –- ends soon.
But if he’s guilty, questions arise: Did Trump know of Manafort’s shady finances when he hired him for his campaign? If so, why didn’t he anticipate the political fallout? He trusted Michael Cohen, too, to handle very personal matters before Cohen showed how utterly untrustworthy he is. What does this say about Trump’s ability to judge character? These will be issues for Trump to address if Manafort is convicted.
But I’ll give Manafort one thing: he apparently is loyal, unlike Michael Cohen, who, when subjected to the Mueller search-and-destroy treatment, opted to “flip” and cooperate with the special counsel, even if it meant disclosing that he had secretly taped his own client. That’s about as disgraceful as it gets, even for an attorney known as a “fixer.” He could (and should) be disbarred for that, but at this point it hardly matters to his career in law; who in the world is going to trust him with anything now that we know he’s done that? Likewise, who can believe him when he claims, without evidence, that Donald Trump, Jr., told his father in advance of that meeting with some –- gasp! –- Russians in Trump Tower? Giuliani refuted this assertion thoroughly in an interview with Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday.
Maybe Cohen is looking at a second career in broadcasting, with (appropriately) CNN or perhaps MSNBC. It’s easy for leakers and liars to get jobs there if they’re sufficiently anti-Trump.
Trump’s current attorney, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, said over the weekend that two retired FBI agents examined the recording leaked to CNN of Cohen’s conversation with Trump about paying a Playboy model and concluded that someone had “played” with it. They say it’s “a tape of a tape.” Giuliani needs to be able to analyze the original recording but says chances of that are “slim.”
Now, I assume that in 2016, they’re not talking literally about a piece of magnetic tape like we used to use when I started in radio. (I recall one episode of “Columbo” in which the murderer’s secretary would press “play” on a reel-to-reel tape machine in her desk drawer to record all his phone calls. Her boss’s crafty editing of that tape was used to make it sound as if he were talking on the phone when he was really out murdering. But I digress.) I assume this was some sort of voice-activated digital recording. Gosh, digital recordings are a cinch to manipulate, but experts can still tell. That includes the way this “tape” abruptly cuts off.
Speaking of “Columbo,” I wish we had Lt. Columbo right now, to walk into the special counsel’s office and say, “You know, there’s something about this that bothers me...”