Paul Manafort has been something of a target rich environment for Special Counsel Robert Mueller who has piled on an assortment of charges for financial and fraud crimes. The charges were not much of a surprise for many of us in Washington where Manafort has long held a reputation for dubious clients and practices. Indeed, as discussed before, it is astonishing that Donald Trump selected Manafort to head his campaign when minimal vetting would have revealed his controversial history and clients. Now Mueller has now filed greatly expanded charges against Manafort and Gates. There is a new allegation of mortgage fraud but one recently disclosed inquiry could present an even more serious issue for Manafort and the Administration. All of the past charges have been unrelated to election or the campaign. The new allegation is no exception, but it does involve the Administration in Manafort allegedly securing a $16 million loan in exchange for an appointment of the banker to a prestigious Administration position. Mueller is reportedly seeking information on the appointment of Stephen Calk to Trump’s council of economic advisers in August 2016. He is the president of Federal Savings Bank and gave Manafort the over-sized loan. As discussed in my most recent column, this is why I have been arguing the financial allegations are more important to watch than the collusion allegations.
The loan was in the form of three loans for homes in New York City and the Hamptons in December 2016 and January 2017. The timing is obviously a concern. He went to Federal Savings Bank. Mueller is suspicious of the timing and merits for the loans. Reports indicate that bank officials questioned the basis for the loans. There is also a report of pressure allegedly being applied to one bank employee.
This may be the same mortgage loans that Mueller has suggested were based on false reporting of income and assets by Manafort. The White House declined to say whether Manafort lobbied for Calk’s appointment. On the face of it, such lobbyist would be deeply unethical given his highly favorable loans.
This is still not an allegation linked to Russian collusion but it would be the first to allege serious criminal conduct touching upon the Administration itself. In the end, as with the appointment of Omarosa and Rod Porter and others, this scandal is the direct result of poor vetting and poor judgment in the selection of personnel. As Omarosa said recently, “it’s not going to be ok.”