Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on a significant potential barrier to the release of the Special Counsel report — once it is given by Robert Mueller to Attorney General Bill Barr. There is a striking contrast between the level of cooperation shown in relation to the Special Counsel investigation versus congressional investigation. In the latter context, the White House instructed witnesses not to answer questions on the basis that privilege might be claimed (an improper practice in my view). This would seem to suggest that the Trump team is treating communications with the Special Counsel as internal Executive Branch disclosures — and thus not a waiver of privilege. If that is the case, Barr could be heading into a world of difficulty. If the White House invokes, the Justice Department has traditionally defended those claims of executive privilege in court. That could mean a report that is heavily redacted. Unlike classified material which can be given to Congress under seal, grand jury information or executive privileged information cannot be given to Congress absent a court order or waiver, respectively.
This weekend Trump said that he supported the vote of Congress to demand the public release of the report. He told his followers that he told members to vote for the resolution and “Play along with the game!” It is not clear what that game is given the blocking of vote in the Senate by Lindsey Graham. Moreover, it does not state that Trump will waive all executive privilege as discussed in this earlier column.
We often feature stories from Port Richey, Florida which seems like an endless spring of bizarre crimes. Now, the city has out done itself. Previously, Mayor Dale Massad, 68, was arrested for allegedly firing at a Pasco sheriff’s SWAT team trying to arrest him for practicing medicine without a license. Now his replacement, Terrence Rowe, 64, has been arrested just 20 days after taking over from Massad.
President Donald Trump has caused another firestorm with a menacing statement to conservative outlet Breitbart that things will get “very bad, very bad” if his supporters among the military, police, and bikers are pushed too far. Once again, while one can come up with a non-threatening meaning, the President’s comments were widely interpreted as countenancing violence. These are the type of comments that are driving a deep wedge into the electorate with roughly half of the voters saying that they are resolved to vote against the President.
I previously wrote about the dilemma in which Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings finds himself with the widely viewed perjury of Michael Cohen before his committee. Cummings repeatedly asserted that he would refer Cohen for prosecution for any false or misleading statement. Cohen proceeded to do just that. Now, Cohen and some Democratic members are struggling to avoid the obvious. Cohen has again made himself useful and now it is the Democrats who are protecting him from prosecution. This includes the decision of New York Democrats to hit Paul Manafort with a series of new charges while conspicuously ignoring Michael Cohen’s possible state offenses. Cohen is again useful and thus immune. It appears to have worked. Despite his dramatic promises of swift and certain action, Cummings is now saying that he will not pursue any charges. It is wonderful to be useful.
The sentencing of Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. has extended his low prior sentencing to seven and a half years. While that is no walk in the park for a frail person about to turn 70, it is far less than the 35 years that he was faced with in the two cases. It is hardly an overwhelming sentence and, absent his age, it would be viewed as relatively light. That raises the question address in my earlier column in USA Today. Of course, the addition of the state charges could now make all of this a moot point if Manafort is convicted on the new 16 counts.
The former chair of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, has received his second sentence from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C. Jackson sentenced Manafort to 73 months in prison with 30 months of the sentence running consecutively with his Virginia sentence. That would leave an addition of 43 months to run consecutively. That would extend his sentence to seven and a half years. In the federal system, there is an allowance for 15 percent good behavior (there is no parole) plus his time served (9 months). That could result in a release around November 2024.
According to the Baltimore Sun, a Maryland man is now under investigation following a disturbing video in which he jumps on a pelican floating in the water in the Florida Keys. Hunter Hardesty of Davidsonville posted the video to his Facebook account and appeared surprised that a wide array of readers condemned his harmful and juvenile conduct.
Below is my column in The Hill on alleged perjury committed by Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee after being warned that any repeat of his earlier perjury would trigger an immediate referral for prosecution. This week, a leading Democrat said that she thought a referral was likely given the conflicts in Cohen’s testimony. For Cohen, it could be the greatest miscalculation seen on Capitol Hill since William J. Jefferson thought his freezer was a good repository for bribes. Cohen did what he has always done. He found a way to be useful to people who could do him some good. That is what he did for Trump as a legal thug. He then did it for Mueller as a cooperating witness and now he is trying to do it again as a turncoat for Congress. The problem is that Cohen remains unencumbered by truth or ethics. Cohen viewed his interest in being indispensable in giving Democrats what they wanted the most: Trump. The problem is that he has now put the Democrats, and particularly Chairman Elijah Cummings, in a glaringly hypocritical position if they do not refer the matter for prosecution.
In what could well be the greatest disconnect in the history of sentencing hearings, Judge T.S. Ellis III noted that Paul Manafort had refused to apologize for “very serious crimes” worth millions but then gave Manafort a fraction of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller had requested. Rather than the 19-24 years requested (and allowed under the guidelines), Manafort received 47 months with nine months cut off for time served. Thus, he will serve just 38 months for eight serious felonies. Manafort will receive three years of supervised release, and pay a $50,000 fine and $24 million in restitution.
I have the honor of speaking on a distinguished panel at the American Bar Association’s 33rd Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime in New Orleans. The panel is the final event for the conference entitled “Ethical Challenges Raised by the Conduct of Prosecutors, Defense Counsel, and Legal Commentators During High Profile Cases.” The panel will start on Friday from 9:45 – 11:45 at the Hilton Riverside.
One of the curious aspects of the public hearing before the House Oversight Committee was the limited interest in past discussions of a pardon by Cohen with Trump or his legal team. Only a passing reference was made in the hearing, but Cohen said unequivocally that “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” The Wall Street Journal has a report that cast some doubt on that sworn statement. It is reporting that Cohen’s lawyer at the time Stephen Ryan not only pressed for a pardon after the FBI raid on Cohen but suggested that, absent a pardon, he might flip. If true, the story could be another instance where the truth of Cohen’s testimony is subject to challenge despite a pledge from the Committee Chair Elijah Cummings that he would push for a perjury prosecution for any false statements. Cohen already has been accused of perjury and there has already been a call for a request for a perjury investigation from GOP members.
Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on how President Donald Trump may be facing a changing threat as the Special Counsel moves closer to submitting his final report and new allegations of criminal conduct have been raised by Michael Cohen and the Southern District of New York. There are viable criminal allegations raised with regard to Donald Trump’s business practices as well as his payment of hush money to alleged former mistresses. However, some of these claims present their own challenges as criminal theories.