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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Manafort’

Trump and Implications of Cohen and Manafort Convictions

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Robert Mueller and his team of special prosecutors had a great week with the convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.  As soon as the jury went out to deliberate, Manafort and his lawyers attempted to reach a deal for Manafort. Presently, they were unsucessful. The second trial with Manafort begins September 24, 2018.  And while neither man has been sentenced, there are still many legal implications for Trump with his lawyer of over 12 years and his campaign chairman being convicted.  While the convictions do not involve the Russian collusion or meddling in our election, they are a tipping point to what lies ahead for Donald Trump.

Last week, I discussed the Trump, Cohen and Manafort convictions on CGTN-America TV. Watch here:

 

 

Federal Judges Show Human Side: A Tale of Two Judges

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Court watchers and other interested persons are getting a close look inside a Virginia federal court room on how judges act.  Judge T. S. Ellis, III presiding over the Paul Manafort trial has a style all his own. He has been testy with the prosecution lawyers since day one. Real court drama is often stranger than fiction.  Judges are human—as Judge Ellis stated on Thursday “this robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.”  Although, it appears as if the prosecution team and Judge Ellis are in a constant dog fight.  Across the river in Washington, D.C. federal district Judge Emmet Sullivan is trying a different type of case.

Judges’ personalities, quirks, demeanors, tempers, court room styles vary from as many ways as there are judges. Judge Ellis appears to currently focus his harsh attention and comments on the prosecution lawyers.  He accused the prosecution team of crying or at least having water in their eyes, frowning, looking down (presumably at notes) and taking too long with their case presentation.  At times, it appears as if Judge Ellis is against the prosecution.  Most of the criticism has occurred out of the presence of the jury.  With the jury, the judge has appeared jovial making jokes about lunch and other court room matters.

On Wednesday, the judge rebuked the prosecution in front of the jury for allowing an IRS expert witness to remain in the court room for the entire length of the trial.  Usually witnesses and potential witnesses are sequestered which means they must remain outside of the court room until called or excused.   By Thursday, the prosecutors had filed a complaint against the judge for his failure to recall that he granted prior permission for the IRS witness to remain. And in a fashion unlikely of many judges, Judge Ellis admitted to the jury that he made a mistake—stating he is human.  No one knows what effect this mistake may have on the jury. Once impressions are made of attorneys, it may be difficult for a juror to totally disregard what caused the impression—even if asked to do so. In other words, once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to put it back in.

 

In another federal court room today in Washington, D.C. another federal judge is presiding over a government case.  In an immigration asylum case presided over by Judge Emmet Sullivan, some bold statements were also made against the government. Upon learning that the government had violated an agreement, Judge Sullivan made one of the boldest orders that I ever recall a judge making.   Enraged over the government’s failure to follow an earlier commitment to refrain from deporting the plaintiffs in the case –at least before the hearing, Judge Sullivan demanded that a government airplane return a mother and child seeking asylum back to the U.S.  At the time of the court hearing, the plane was already in the air headed to El Salvador—in direct defiance of the government’s agreement to the court. The judge almost found Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court –saying “this is pretty outrageous.”  Judge Sullivan further demanded that the government refrain from removing any plaintiffs in the case who are seeking asylum from gang and domestic violence.  Judge Sullivan shows judges are human and bold too.

In the cases of Judge Ellis and Judge Sullivan, the comments and actions made by both are indicative of the vastly different styles of judges.  As a trial lawyer, I prefer that judges allow me to try my clients’ cases without snide remarks and what I perceive as unfair rulings.  Most trial lawyers will agree that we prefer a judge who lets us try our case without much interruption, unless ruling on motions or objections.  From trying hundreds of cases, it is still often difficult to read a judge’s mind or motives.

I understand that judges are only human. Whatever style they exhibit, I always prefer a judge who is fair and just– no matter what must be done to achieve justice.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She is often seen in various media outlets as a legal analyst.

Trump Expresses Desperation Over Mueller Investigation

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump for the umpteenth time lashed out at Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller on Twitter on August 1, 2018 calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Mueller investigation. Presumably, Trump forgot that Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation and has no legal authority to end it.  That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting about it.  Trumps’ tweet stated that Sessions should stop this “rigged witch hunt right now.” From a legal standpoint, the tweet could be viewed as further possible evidence of obstruction of justice.  If Trump is attempting to impede and prevent a lawful investigation from continuing, that could amount to obstruction of justice.

 

Donald Trump appears to be particularly feeling the heat this week with the start of Paul Manafort’s trial, Michael Cohen tape revelations, Facebook’s announcement of new fake Russian accounts and the ongoing attempts by Mueller to interview Trump. While Manafort’s trial is about tax evasion, money laundering and other alleged money crimes having nothing to do with the Russian influence over the 2016 elections, Manafort was Trump’s trusted chairman over his 2016 presidential campaign.  While Manafort remains stoic and silent in regards to Trump, only time and a possible conviction in the first trial will tell if Manafort will seek a deal. Meanwhile Manafort has a second trial coming in September for which he will remain in jail.

Trump’s tweet also comes following Facebook’s announcement this week of Russian fake accounts targeting the 2018 upcoming elections. Since the tweet surfaced, the White House and Press Secretary Sanders have downplayed the tweets—saying that Trump was expressing his opinion. It was more likely a desperate one over the events that appear to be moving quickly towards him.

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen continues to send signals that he intends to give a tell all to the special prosecutor, if and when the opportunity arises.  Michael Cohen may have also recorded a hundred tapes involving Trump matters. One tape apparently discusses hush money that may have been paid to a Playboy model prior to the election to silence details of an affair.  Cohen has not been indicted but appears to signal a willingness to cut a deal to prevent or lessen jail time, if one is forthcoming.

The special prosecutor is still in negotiations with Trump’s attorneys to interview him over knowledge of any Russian involvement and possible obstruction of justice.  No agreement has been reached. The possibility of interviews with Mueller still looms large.

Past actions may be catching up with Donald Trump. Trump’s firing James Comey last year over his failure to end the Russian investigation, to Trumps’ statement during the presidential debate calling for Russia to find the 30,000 missing Hillary Clinton Emails, to campaign meetings with Russians in Trump Towers to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, to wanting a back channel to speak with Russians after the election, may all be adding up with new information and indictments in 2018.

Most American people want to know what the Mueller investigation has uncovered regarding Donald Trump. The Trump administration and the American public likely agree on the desire to end the Mueller investigation albeit in different ways.  Trump would like to shut down the investigation “right now” before anymore dirt on him is uncovered by Mueller’s team. Most Americans and many bipartisan members of Congress want the investigation to end by proceeding to its conclusion.  And that’s the problem that Donald Trump faces. Trump may now feel the walls closing in on him with nowhere to run or hide. When the curtain gets finally pulled back, we may see the real Donald Trump.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former Baltimore prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She frequently appears in media outlets as a legal analyst and political commentator.

 

No Slam Dunk for Mueller in Manafort Trial

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

All political eyes and ears are on the start of Paul Manafort’s criminal trial for tax evasion, money laundering and an assortment of other money crimes. Paul Manafort is the former chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  Jury selection is underway today.

If this were a card game, special prosecutor Robert Mueller has held his playing cards closely to his chest to prevent tipping his hand.  Until the start of the trial, we do not know what the evidence will show.  The indictment spells out what the prosecution intends to prove.  Once witnesses take the stand and documents are presented, we will know the hand that Manafort and Mueller have been dealt.

As for timing, the actual start of the trial with opening statements may not take place on the first day.  There is never a magical formula to predict the time that it will take to pick a jury.  Having tried many complex trials lasting weeks and months, it is never an easy guess. And this case is further complicated by the fact that everything is political in nature.  While Manafort’s trial does not focus on Russia and any Russian collusion, it is there streaming in the background. And prospective jurors may already have taken sides in this political climate.

Jurors will be asked a ton of questions to ensure that they can be fair and impartial.  However, most jurors will likely already know something about the case. Some may have already come to conclusions—without ever hearing any evidence.  Those prospective jurors who cannot set aside their preconceived notions and judge the case solely on the evidence presented will likely be excluded.   However, in today’s political climate, it is conceivable that a juror who is strongly for or against one side, might end up sitting on the jury.

The stakes are high for Robert Mueller and his special prosecution team.  If the prosecution wins, then it will send a clear signal that the other upcoming cases are on the right path. If he loses or a jury is unable to render a verdict, a roar of “no collusion”, “witch- hunt “will be heard around the world by Donald Trump and his followers.  If Mueller does not succeed with a guilty verdict on all or most counts, the GOP and Trump will likely call for an end to the special prosecutor.  Although Manafort’s charges and trial are not about Russia, it’s really all about Russia.

Manafort is charged in an indictment with various money crimes consisting of  lying to banks to get money, avoiding paying taxes, money laundering and hiding money in offshore accounts to avoid declaring it as income.  These cases are tried mostly with documents to prove the elements of the crime.  Under most ordinary circumstances, these cases are usually easy to win. Witnesses will testify such as Rick Gates who worked for Manafort.  Gates has cut a deal with prosecutors.  A witness who has skin in the game and has cut a deal with prosecutors is sometimes viewed with doubt or suspicion.  If the documentary evidence is overwhelming, Gates and the witnesses are only icing on the cake.

Most financial crime cases are easy to win for the prosecutor.  Yet, no case is ever a slam dunk for prosecutors.  Despite having a strong case, a case can still be lost.  One never knows what a jury of 12 persons will do when they go to deliberate behind closed doors.  All 12 jurors must agree to render a verdict.  If less than twelve agree on charges, a mistrial will be declared.

The biggest problem for Mueller is predicting how twelve persons will decide this case.  Anything less than guilty verdicts on all 12 counts will be seen as a partial loss.  There is no slam dunk trial in law.  Any case can be won or lost. Manafort’s case is seen as a must win for Robert Mueller.

UPDATE:  In the late afternoon,  a jury of six men and six women were seated to hear the trial. Opening statements and prosecution witness testimony began.  The prosecution intends to paint Manafort as someone who believes he is above the law.  The defense intends to play “pin the tail on the donkey” and blame everything on Rick Gates who received a plea deal.  But Rick Gates was not the one who received $60 million in  unreported income.  A three judge panel denied Manafort’s request for release from jail pending trial.  Manafort must remain in jail pending his second trial in September.

More updates and analysis to follow as the trial progresses.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former Baltimore prosecutor and criminal defense trial attorney.  She is often seen in various media outlets as a legal analyst.

 

 

Trump’s Days are Dwindling Down

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

 

Some Republicans now state that Donald Trump may not seek re-election. If the unsealed indictments of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and guilty plea agreement of George Papadopoulos are any indication of things to come, Trump may not last the entire first term. The much anticipated hashtag of #MuellerMonday revealed a 31 page, 11 count indictment against Manafort and co-defendant Gates’ indictments for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent. Allegations revealed $75 million held in offshore account by Manafort resulting in his use to purchase lavish million-dollar homes, secure loans, purchase a lavish lifestyle of a million-dollar wardrobe in an alleged scheme to evade reporting of income and payment of taxes. It is a classic money laundering scheme as alleged.

After turning themselves in, Manafort and Gates respectively were released on $10 million and $5 million bail, ordered held on house arrest, only to leave for lawyer, doctor and court appearances and ordered to turn in their passports. NPR reported after reviewing unsealed court documents that Manafort had three passports and traveled with aliases. For a man alleged to be worth over $75 million, perhaps $10 million in bail was low. And if the government proves its case, all of the alleged ill-gotten gains will be turned over to the government. Usually, white collar defendants are released on their own recognizance—only having to report to pre-trial. The trial may not occur for over a year due to the nature of the charges.

The real coup of Mueller was the unsealing of the indictment and guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, an alleged Trump campaign foreign policy advisor. Papadopoulos pled guilty to one count of making a false statement. It was the best kept secret in a town that is not known for secrets. According to court papers, Papadopoulos is a cooperating defendant—meaning he is likely wearing a wire to gain and or corroborate information.

The Trump administration denies having knowledge of him, except to say Papadopoulos was a volunteer. The Internet is not as forgetful. In March, 2016, Trump tweeted an Instagram photo of Sessions and Papadopoulos at a meeting with Trump and a few others present. Trump titled it  “national security meeting”—with Papadopoulos present seated two seats to the left of Jeff Sessions.  Trump and Sessions are at the heads of the  table shown in the Instagram photo.

Today, Trump says Papadopoulos was a low level volunteer. Court papers allege a meeting was held in March, 2016 on seeking assistance from Russia on dirt on Clinton, in the campaign. In addition to Trump, Attorney General Sessions may now be in legal hot water. Of course, both will continue to deny involvement—and attribute everything to fake news.

Special Prosecutor Mueller, a former George W. Bush FBI director appointee, has been diligently working on the Trump Russian investigation for months now. By all legal accounts, he is methodically investigating the involvement of Russia into our 2016 presidential election. And the end game for Trump may likely be death by Mueller, whether by indictment, impeachment, resignation or 25th amendment. But mark my words, Trump’s days are numbered.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer who represents white collar defendants and a former Baltimore prosecutor.