The Danger of Dead Bees: How Missteps With Cohen and Manafort Could Sting Trump In 2019

Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the dangers posed by Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort after the filings last week in federal court.  

Here is the column:

“Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” A drunken sailor asks that curious question of actress Lauren Bacall in the 1944 classic movie, “To Have and Have Not.” This week, President Trump can claim two legal stings from dead bees, in the familiar forms of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Indeed, the two late Friday court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller and one by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York are very detailed accounts of how to get stung by dead bees.

First and foremost, you have to step on them. With both Cohen and Manafort, the Trump legal team could face serious complications after actively seeking out close and ongoing relationships when it should have been cutting both men a wide berth. That does not mean these filings will send the president into legal anaphylactic shock. Yet, once again, the greatest threats facing Trump may be due to missteps in response to the special counsel investigation, as opposed to the original allegations.

Soon after the release of the filings, Trump posted a tweet declaring, “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” There were very few others who shared his enthusiasm, however, since the accusations directed against Trump, who is referred to as “Individual 1” in the filings, are about as vindicating as an indictment would be liberating. Nevertheless, there are three positive elements for the president in this latest development.

First, while prosecutors reveal additional alleged Russian contacts, and even an offer to create some “campaign political synergy,” there is a conspicuous absence of evidence of an alleged conspiracy or collusion by the campaign. As in the case of the Trump Tower meeting between Russian representatives and Trump campaign officials, these limited queries and contacts seemed to go nowhere. Indeed, Cohen apparently did not even follow up on an offer to meet with one Russian official promising political help. Second, the vast majority of false statements and criminal allegations concern the ample criminal conduct of Cohen and Manafort, all of which are unrelated to Trump or the 2016 campaign.

Third, and most importantly, prosecutors are seeking significant prison sentences for both Cohen and Manafort because both men failed to cooperate to the extent that prosecutors demanded. Since they each spoke extensively with prosecutors, they clearly were unwilling or unable to give Mueller what he demanded in exchange for sentencing reductions. After a long series of filings, the special counsel has given detailed accounts of plenty of suspicious characters, but he still shows no clear collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

That brings us to the unappreciated danger of dead bees. Many observers long warned that Cohen and Manafort represented serious unnecessary risks. All that was needed was to back away from them. Instead, Trump and his advisers stepped on both. Cohen has been a dead bee since the nondisclosure agreement with porn star Stormy Daniels was disclosed. Trump, however, ignored advice to sever connections and instead reaffirmed that Cohen remained his personal lawyer. Cohen then turned on his former boss, deciding to cooperate without a formal agreement with prosecutors. It did not turn out as he hoped. New York prosecutors virtually mocked his “sympathetic family history” and belated cooperation in search of leniency. They rejected notions that Cohen is a “hero” and said he made the “affirmative decision” not to be a cooperative witness.

Most of the new information in the filings concerns the multiple criminal acts that Cohen committed in defrauding banks, evading taxes, and lying to an array of people on an array of subjects. However, one allegation is a direct sting to Trump. Prosecutors state that Cohen committed criminal campaign finance violations “by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women” and assist the Trump campaign. The filings describe how the payments “sought to influence the election from the shadows” as decent Americans “knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard.”

That could be dismissed as purple prose, but the Justice Department expressly declares this crime against democracy was carried out “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. This stands as a clear accusation in a federal document of a crime committed at his ordering. Last year, I wrote that the payments to these women could be charged but would be difficult to prove. The real sting, however, is what follows. Prosecutors describe Cohen dealing with the White House before he lied to Congress and the public. He also allegedly made false statements to investigators. In continuing to coordinate and communicate with Cohen, the White House implicated itself in his long pattern of deception.

This creates the risk of an alternative theory of obstruction of justice. While the allegations surrounding the firing of former FBI director James Comey have always been anemic, this would be an effort to undermine an active federal investigation through alleged acts of subornation and witness tampering, an effort to conceal this crime that could prove the more serious offense. In other words, by pulling Cohen deeper into the fold, the Trump legal team stepped on a dead bee.

Manafort was dead as John Dillinger the minute he was indicted. He was a one man criminal conglomerate who was neither clever nor careful. Much like Cohen, blind greed left him little in terms of a viable defense. All the White House had to do was step around him. Instead, the Trump legal team reportedly continued to meet with counsel for Manafort under a joint defense agreement. As a cooperating witness facing sentencing, it was highly unusual and problematic to share information with the Trump legal team on what the special counsel revealed in confidential meetings.

The filings, however, go further and state that earlier this year, Manafort communicated directly and indirectly with Trump administration officials, including a “senior” official. If Mueller believes Manafort was coordinating his withholding of information or lack of cooperation, then it could be construed as the same range of collateral crimes from obstruction, to subornation to witness tampering, suggested by the Cohen filings.

Moreover, since there is a crime fraud exception to attorney client privilege, this allegation could lead to losing confidentiality over these meetings and force lawyers for Trump to take the stand to answer the allegations. It gives Mueller a line of attack that he did not have based on the original allegations. This is exactly how you can be stung by dead bees. Or as the drunken sailor explained to Lauren Bacall in the movie, “You know, you got to be careful of dead bees if you are going around barefooted, cause if you step on them they can sting you just as bad as if they was alive, especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley

145 thoughts on “The Danger of Dead Bees: How Missteps With Cohen and Manafort Could Sting Trump In 2019”

  1. Here is another impression of the Trump, Pelosi and Schumer debate:

    Today Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi visited the White House for a televised meeting with President Trump. The room was full of reporters, cameras and microphones, so the event was staged for the benefit of the press and television viewers. It was described as a negotiation session, but needless to say, no negotiations took place. I’m not sure what Pelosi and Schumer expected to gain, but Trump obviously set out to frame the conversation in terms of border security and the need for a wall, and to dominate the discussion. He succeeded, I think.

    Pelosi and Schumer disingenuously claimed to be in favor of border security, but alleged that a wall is not necessary. No doubt their partisans will buy that approach (and discount the purported interest in border security), but I doubt that anyone else will. Schumer tried to turn the conversation to the prospect of a government shutdown. That led to a dramatic confrontation at the conclusion of the event, when President Trump vowed to take responsibility for a shutdown if he doesn’t get funding for a wall.

    The one potential gaffe of the staged event was Schumer’s scoffing at the states of Indiana and North Dakota–a gratuitous slam that can’t do his party any good.

    Here is the video:

  2. Peter likes to narrowly focus on small portions of the debate between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer so I figured maybe one ought to read a broader representation of the argument. Better yet see the video.

    “President Donald Trump sparred with House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in an extraordinary Oval Office session before TV cameras.

    Schumer and Pelosi visited The White House on Tuesday to negotiate with Trump over border wall funding in the next spending bill. The pair offered Trump approximately 1.3 billion dollars in funding for the wall, while the president demanded 5 billion dollars. The impasse could lead to a partial government shutdown.

    Pelosi set the tone for the discussion at the beginning of her statement noting that any shutdown would be known as “The Trump Shutdown,” prompting the president to immediately interrupt her. The two continued to spar over whether Trump had the votes for proposed border wall funding in the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

    “If we thought we would get it passed in the Senate, Nancy, we would do it immediately,” Trump declared, adding, “It doesn’t matter, though, because you can’t get it passed in the Senate because we need ten Democrats’ vote.”

    Pelosi then questioned why TV camera’s were present during budget negotiations prompting Trump to declare, “It’s called transparency, Nancy.”

    Trump then turned the floor over to Schumer, who also castigated the president for declaring that he would rather shut the government down than accept the Democrats’ proposals. Trump angrily turned to Schumer and said, “you want to know something? Yes, if we don’t get what we want whether its through you, one way or the other, I will shut down the government.” (Related: Trump Says ‘I’m Proud To Shut Down Government’ To Schumer, Pelosi)

    “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” he continued. “People in this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it. The last time, you shut it down. It didn’t work.”

    The pair of lawmakers said after the meeting that they had no intention of meeting Trump’s demands and told him they would only offer him the option of passing existing levels of funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Schumer and Pelosi both said Trump would be to blame for any potential government shutdown.

    The deadline for spending occurs Dec. 21, with no current breakthroughs on negotiations.”



    President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that there would be chaos across the country if he were impeached, as he brushed aside the latest assertions from federal prosecutors that during the 2016 election he coordinated and directed Michael Cohen’s efforts to silence women who claimed they had affairs with him, in violation of federal campaign finance law.

    “I’m not concerned, no,” the president told Reuters reporters about his potential impeachment during an interview in the Oval Office. “I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

    Trump also scoffed at prosecutors’ claims that individuals in his campaign had contact with Russian officials during and after the 2016 election, despite his previous pronouncements that no such contacts had occurred.

    “The stuff you’re talking about is peanut stuff,” he said.

    On Friday, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York revealed more details behind the charges against Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. Prosecutors allege that Cohen paid off the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, during the final weeks of the presidential campaign in coordination with and directed by Trump himself — potentially meaning the president could be charged with a felony, although legal experts say that this is unlikely to occur while he’s in office and that convicting Trump is far from a done deal.

    Edited from: “Trump: People Will Revolt If He’s Impeached”

    Today’s POLITICO

    1. I would revolt at an unlawful coup to remove this lawful president, pretty much regardless what form the coup takes. At the very least I could to put on a gilet jaune and take to the streets and exercise my rights of free speech, assembly, and to petition for redress of grievances.

      in France the pretext for imposition of confiscatory taxation is “the environment.
      As if a larger budget for the bloated French state can arrest global warming. It cannot. It will only punish people who drive cars. Which is pretty much everyone in France outside the major urban enclaves who only take le Metro everywhere.

      the big metropolises do not seem to understand that the people who live outside the urban enclaves are not the tax slaves of the cities. From the Elbe to the San Andreas Fault, city people should be careful about biting off more than they can chew. If it comes to civil war the cities will starve. they can’t support the teeming masses without cooperation from the countryside. For starters the trucks will not go through. secondly the cities live on one week of food supplies if even that much. Thirdly a collapse in law and order would finish them off even faster.

      If you think this all ends with rural people surrendering to ever more political and economic marginalization, and just licking the boots of the urban lumpenprole shock troops of globalism, wrong! At some point the thin stratum of adminstrative cadres that hold the urban masses in check will fail and be the first to fall. Then, urban autophagy begins as the countryside sustains itself. Total capitulation inside of 2 weeks.

      So yes Trump is correct to draw attention to this unspoken dynamic just as the protestors have in France

      Patrie oui, republique, non!

      Dan Balz explains the dynamic in nicer language

      1. you know what might arrest global warming? perhaps, an 80% dieoff in world population. if the industrial civilization that powers the global economy collapses, that will come.

        maybe that’s exactly where some people want to take it!

        the urban megapolis growing ever faster with an unending supply of third world migrants is the manifestation of out of control globalism, which thrives on over-consumption and continuous labor oversupply to drive down wages and keep corporate profits high

        when the increasingly disenfranchised rural and exurban natives of the West figure this out, it may be as dramatic a change as the Communists brought to China. It took Mao 20 years to rally the peasants of China into getting rid of the Japs and nationalists and taking firm control over their country. Who knows how fast it might happen now.

        When it all jumps off, I don’t want to be “caught dead” in a city.

        And it will come sooner or later whether DJT is POTUS or not. One year, ten years, fifteen, global mass migration and the demographic relocation of the third world to the first as an act of reverse colonization that will eventually be met with organized force.

        bookmark that excellent article

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