Courtesy of Thomson Reuters
Manafort’s Malfeasance Merit Mandatory Reprimand from Mueller
November 28, 2017
During the 2016 election, there were many accusations against presidential candidate Donald Trump and his campaign staff. The most important one of these accusations was the claim that Trump and his campaign had ties to Russia. This evidence began to surface during March of 2016 when George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor for Donald Trump, met with Joseph Mifsud and a “female Russian national” who Mifsud introduced as Putin’s niece, though officially Putin does not have a niece. Joseph Mifsud is a Maltese academic who has connections to high ranking government officials in Russia.
Then, in April, Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to Ivan Timofeev, a man with ties to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the next few weeks, Papadopoulos communicates with Timofeev over Skype and email frequently planning meetings between the campaign and Russian officials. Mifsud regularly visited Russia during this period and told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of emails that provided “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos notified the Trump campaign’s national co-chairman Sam Clovis by email, who praised Papadopoulos and said he would work it through the campaign.
During this time, Trump and other officials complimented him saying he was an excellent member of staff, and multiple photographs were taken in campaign meetings that Trump posted on Twitter. Papadopoulos kept contact with Mifsud throughout the campaign and was trying to set up a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
On April 27th Trump delivered his first speech on foreign policy in Washington. It was attended by the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak who was seated in the first row. Both Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner met with the Ambassador before the speech, Kislyak told his superiors that they talked about campaign-related matters and foreign policy important to Moscow.
Sessions denies that they talked about any matters other than personal small talk. Then on May 21, Donald Trump Jr. had dinner with a Russian banking official, formerly a senator in Putin’s party. The White House denies that they dined together.
In June Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner have a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya who aimed to prove democratic donors had evaded taxes and lobbied against the Magnitsky Act, a law banning Russians who are suspected of human rights abuses. She carried a memo with her that raises suspicion that she might have been working as an “agent” of the Kremlin.
On June 14, WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) which were detrimental to Clinton winning the election, while both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were ferociously trying to push their campaigns into completion before Election Day on November 8.
The DNC and Crowdstrike, the investigating firm found two Russian Intelligence affiliates, had been found present in the network during may of 2016. The following day, Donald Trump released a statement saying “We believe it was the DNC that did the hacking” going to say it was a way to cover up Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. Papadopoulos then offered to go to Russia and attend an MFA meeting on behalf of Donald Trump’s campaign, but after saying that he also offers an “off the record” meeting. Carter Page, one of Trump’s advisors also requested a trip to Russia.
On July 7, Manafort offered to give briefings on the presidential race to a Russian Oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. A representative of Deripaska says that no briefings ever took place. Deripaska had done business with Manafort before, and it is known that Deripaska has extensive ties to the Kremlin. During early July, Page travels to Russia.
The first thing he did in Moscow was give a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow, Critiquing US-Russia foreign policy. After this speech, he met with Andrey Baranov, ahead of investor relations at Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company. When Page testified to the Intelligence community, he was very vague and unclear about the meeting.
He claimed he didn’t know who set up the meeting, or exactly what they talked about. At this point, The FBI opened an investigation into the DNC hacking, if Russia was directly trying to influence the U.S. election, as well as ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, and later in October, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” meaning American Intelligence had found enough evidence to prove that the hacker(s), Guccifer 2.0, were of Russian orientation.
Around this mounting evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, people around the nation have been calling for Trump’s impeachment. But what constitutes impeachment? Article 2 of the United States Constitution, section 4 states that “ The president, Vice president and all Civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
On January 6 of 2017 the CIA, NSA, and FBI had officially traced the hack to Russia and ordered by Vladimir Putin himself in order to disable the Clinton campaign and prevent her, and the Democratic party from winning the election. In February, many campaign-related officials of Trump Sr., such as Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Donald Trump Jr. were found to be in frequent contact with Russian nationals, though this was at first denied.
While the Russian Investigation was heating up in D.C, Donald Trump Jr. had secretly met with a Russian attorney because of information sent from through his Russian, oligarch, family friends Aras and Emin Agalarov, and Rob Goldstone who ultimately sent, “[The Russian government] offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously a very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. replied, “if it’s what you say I love it,” officially accepting the invitation to meet with the “The Russian government attorney”, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and forwarding the thread to Manafort and Kushner.
Natalia Veselnitskaya is another Russian name somewhat familiar to US politics. She rose from obscurity when later that month, she met with Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 to talk about Russian-American adoption and hinting on incriminating evidence on the Clinton campaign. This information was not made readily available to the public until July 11, 2017, where the emails were originally sent on June 3, 2016.
Although she does not work directly for Putin, she does have close ties with the Kremlin. Veselnitskaya met with Republican figures to discuss a memo which she thought could allegedly damage the Democratic party, and more specifically, Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr and his meeting with a Russian national Veselnitskaya had been illegal according to US election laws by obtaining a “thing of value” in the form of an exchange of information to hurt the Clinton campaign which is illegal to accept under the 110.20 Election Law which states, “Prohibition on contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements by foreign nationals [is against the law]… A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or another thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.”
In an attempt to punish Russia for their involvement in the 2016 Election, previous President Barack Obama declared sanctions on Russian individuals for “efforts to influence the 2016 election” according to David E. Sanger of The New York Times. Michael Flynn called Sergey Kislyak multiple times after the sanctions were announced, and after denying the calls several times, the FBI, who had repeatedly monitored Kislyak’s phone had recorded their conversations about sanctions on December 29, and on February 13, Flynn resigned from his position as the National Security Advisor due to misleading the American government.
Three days later, Flynn’s involvement with Russia was added into the Russian Investigation case by the House Intelligence Committee. And recently, Flynn has made headlines with Special Counsel Robert Mueller launching an investigation into the recent kidnapping suspicions sponsored by the government of Turkey.
Flynn according to the Wall Street Journal took two meetings last December with representatives of the Turkish government regarding possible courses of action against a Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who lives in exile in America, has long been a critic of the current Turkish government. The Journal revealed that the Turks offered Flynn $15 million in exchange for helping arrange the forceful extradition of Gulen from the US to a Turkish prison island. Such an extraordinary extradition, according to international law and the laws of the United States, would be extremely illegal.
While there is no evidence that Flynn accepted this offer or that further preparations for the plan were carried out, NBC points out “that Flynn even took such meetings, even if they came to nothing, underscores the serious legal jeopardy in which he either already does, or soon will, find himself.” Flynn held these meetings during the presidential transition period between November and January when Obama was for all intents and purposes still President of the United States. In taking a meeting with foreign agents in his capacity as NSA nominee without the sitting President’s knowledge and approval, Flynn has hit murky legal and ethical grounds.
However, charges are not likely to come from the fact that Flynn went around President Obama in meeting with the Turks, nor from the possible planned kidnapping (as serious as these things are). Instead, Mueller is likely to indict Flynn on much more procedural grounds: violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
This act mandates that individuals in the US representing foreign government’s interests must register with the US government and disclose their relationship both political and financial with that foreign government. Flynn has likely violated the FARA; Mueller found that Flynn’s political consulting firm accepted $530,000 from the Turkish government without disclosing it to the federal government.
Flynn has not yet been formally indicted or charged with any crime, though inside sources from the Mueller investigation indicate the special counsel is ready to bring charges.
Paul Manafort, along with his business associate, Rick Gates, has both been indicted by a federal grand jury, on a total of 12 charges. One of these charges includes conspiracy against the United States. Other charges include money laundering and failure to file reports of foreign banking accounts. Both Manafort and Gates have plead not guilty.
However, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy advisor to Mr. Trump, pleaded guilty on a charge of lying to the FBI. In the Manafort/Gates Indictment, that over 75 million dollars flowed through offshore accounts. Offshore accounts, meaning accounts based in foreign countries, are usually used in order to evade taxes in a home country. With charges this serious, these men could face a lifetime behind bars.
The United State’s relationship with Russia has never been one without tension. Even today it is hard to tell if they are our friends or foes. The political figurehead of Russia is Vladimir Putin. Today, Mr. Trump is not able to give a clear and definitive answer on if Putin and his government had anything to do with the 2016 election.
Many Americans claim that the United State’s presidential outcome was a “win” for Russia, in that Mr. Trump can be easily manipulated by the Russian government. We have already seen an array of mixed messages from the U.S. President. For example, tweeting, “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow-if so, will he become my new best friend?” This sort of narrative that the president uses, is seemingly not a progressive one. Trump even stated that he asked Putin twice about meddling in the election, and he “vehemently denied it”.
Another Russian name that re-appears is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian Oligarch and philanthropist. 26 million dollars was transferred from Deripaska’s company, to Yiakora Ventures, Ltd., which is a company linked to Manafort’s business in Cyprus. Bank accounts suggest that prior to Manafort’s involvement with the Trump campaign, he was in debt to pro-Russia interests by up to 17 million dollars.
Currently, American Russian relations are better than they previously have been, though Trump has said since his campaign that “it would be wonderful” if Russia and America could become close allies, though this Russian relationship with America is presently laden with strategic corruption and illegitimate business.