The first trial in Robert Muller's Russia investigation is kicking off right now. Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, is the first courtroom casualty in what feels like an investigation that has been going on for about seven hundred years.
So there's three things going on here. The first is: what is Manafort being charged with? The second is: what does Muller hope to gain here? And the third is: what's the real issue here that most people will miss?
But let's start with number one. Manafort is being charged with bank and tax fraud. He's been a lobbyist and political consultant... since the late 1700's — I think. In addition to working on the Presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, he's also lobbied on behalf of some, well let's just say, questionable foreign leaders.
One of those leaders includes the, now deposed, former president of Ukraine.
And that's where Manafort got caught up in the Muller probe. The charges against Manfort allege that he made more than $60 million working in Ukraine. He then routed that cash through a shady bank in Cyprus, set up shell companies, and disguised the money as loans received from those phony companies. Doing it this way helped him avoid U.S. taxes, but it's also highly illegal.
This is the case against Manafort in a nutshell, but what does Muller hope to gain here? You know, you could make a good case that this trial doesn't even belong in the Muller investigation. Does catching some dirty lobbyist laundering money have anything to do with the Trump campaign and Russian collusion?
The real issue here that I think a lot of people will miss is how this trial will bring to light the dark and dirty world of U.S. lobbying.
Well no actually, and the Muller team has basically stated as much. But you gotta assume that if Manafort is found guilty - and it looks highly likely that he will be - that he's going to get pretty nervous when it comes sentencing time. Muller is probably hoping that Manafort's lips get loose during that time. If he has anything at all on the President, that's when he might give it.
Manafort may actually have something Muller can use against President Trump. I kind of doubt it, but he might. But the real issue here that I think a lot of people will miss is how this trial will bring to light the dark and dirty world of U.S. lobbying. This isn't a Republican or Democrat issue, it's a problem that crosses the aisle.
They're all lining up together to feed at the same trough. U.S. political operatives are working in foreign countries influencing their elections, and then they're back here at home working for different foreign countries to influence our own elections. It's out of control, and that's the real issue coming to light at the Manafort trial.