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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Donald Trump Is Drowning In Legal Troubles

Updated: Aug 26, 2018

By: Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on August 25, 2018

Last week was a nightmare in President Donald Trump’s world. Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney and self-proclaimed “fixer”, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to eight felonies -- five counts of income tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, and two counts of violating federal campaign finance laws. In his guilty plea, Cohen admitted that he made “hush” money payments during the 2016 presidential campaign to legendary porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal at the direction of then-Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Daniels and McDougal have claimed they had sexual encounters with Trump while he was married to his third wife, Melania Trump. The President has denied these claims. The First Lady has remained silent on this subject.

The Trump Organization provided the “hush” money Cohen used to make the payments to Daniels and McDougal. The money was intended to suppress their stories of Trump's adultery and marital infidelity so as to prevent them from influencing the election. Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s chief financial officer, has been granted immunity in exchange for giving federal prosecutors information for the investigation in Cohen’s case.

On the same day Cohen pled guilty, a federal court jury in Virginia convicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s former presidential campaign manager in 2016, on eight felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and hiding assets in foreign bank accounts. A mistrial was declared on ten other charges. White House aides expect Trump to pardon Manafort after publicly praising him last week.

Last Thursday, it was reported that federal prosecutors have also granted immunity to National Enquirer chief executive David Pecker in exchange for Pecker providing information on the “hush” money deals involving Cohen and Trump. According to a court filing in Cohen's case, Pecker "offered to help deal with negative stories about (Trump's) relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided." These contractual arrangements are called “catch and kill” deals because the National Enquirer bought the exclusive rights to the stories for the sole purpose of keeping them out of the news.

All of this bad news occurred after Trump flame-thrower Rudy Giuliani boldly declared on “Meet The Press” last Sunday that “truth isn’t truth”. This statement summarizes the Trump legal team’s new mantra – nothing is true unless it comes from Trump’s mouth or his daily twitter feed. Even then, Trump’s version of the “truth” is subject to endless mutations.

Trump is the “Subject” or “Target” of Several Criminal Investigations

It is clear now that Trump is the “subject” or “target” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation. Likewise, he is the “subject” or “target” of the federal criminal investigation in Cohen’s case. Trump’s complicit conduct as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Cohen case is actually referenced in Cohen’s plea agreement.

Trump has personal criminal exposure on several fronts. First, the federal prosecutors in Cohen’s case are focused on Trump’s exposure for violations of campaign finance laws. Michael Cohen, Allen Weisselberg, and David Pecker are key government witnesses in this case. Because Weisselberg and Pecker received immunity in this case, they have already provided prosecutors with the testimony and documents needed to complete their criminal case against Trump for violating campaign finance laws. Pecker has already told prosecutors that Trump knew about the "hush" money payments.

Second, the Mueller investigation presents a litany of legal problems for Trump. Mueller has assembled an all-star team of prosecutors to assist him with this investigation. Members of Mueller’s team have taken down international mafia figures, financial fraudsters, terrorists, and former president Richard M. Nixon.

Mueller’s investigation became a serious threat to Trump's presidency after former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was indicted in 2017 for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding the Trump Administration’s plan to lift President Barack Obama’s sanctions on Russia. Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. Since then, Flynn has been a cooperating witness for Mueller in the Russia investigation. His sentencing has been postponed four times, which means Flynn is singing like a bird.

Follow the Russian Mafia Money

Based upon the constellation of guilty pleas Mueller has obtained to date and the cooperation federal prosecutors have received from key members of Trump’s inner circle, including White House Counsel Don McGahn, it appears that Mueller’s criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s conduct is focused on three primary areas: (a) financial fraud; (b) money laundering for Russian Mafia figures; and (c) racketeering. These are the areas where Donald Trump has personal criminal exposure in the Russia investigation.

Among Trump's many business partners are Russian oligarchs and at least one well-known convicted mobster. One area of focus in the investigation is likely Trump's luxury SoHo Tower in lower Manhattan. Trump’s partner in constructing this high-rise building was Bayrock LLC, a corporation whose primary investors were Russian mining oligarch Tavfik Arif and convicted Russian mobster Felix H. Sater.

On March 2, 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sater led a double life as a Trump business partner and a confidential FBI informant. According to the Times, Sater pleaded guilty to a federal charge of racketeering in 1998 for his role in a Mafia-linked $40-million stock fraud scheme. He quickly cut a plea deal and became a secret DOJ and FBI informant in an effort to get a lenient sentence.

The court records in Sater’s case were sealed to protect his identity for more than a decade while he worked at Bayrock and participated in various undercover assignments for the FBI. After a court hearing in 2009, Sater was fined $25,000. He was spared jail time and the usual obligation to pay restitution.

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January 2015, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch acknowledged that Sater had secretly worked with federal prosecutors and the FBI for more than 10 years, “providing information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of [the Mafia organization known as] La Cosa Nostra”. 

According to confidential sources, Felix Sater is at the center of that part of Mueller’s investigation dealing with Trump’s personal conduct. Mueller’s team is simply following the Russian mafia money.

After six corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s, Trump’s real estate empire reportedly turned to Russian money for its construction projects in the 2000s. Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures saw Trump's real estate development properties as a wonderful opportunity to get their “dirty” money out of Russia and laundered through sophisticated international financial networks in Europe while on its way to Trump in New York. 

In September 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., reportedly stated at a real estate conference in New York that: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

In 2014, James Dodson, a golf writer and co-author of Arnold Palmer’s memoir, described a conversation he had on this subject while playing a round of golf with Donald Trump and son Eric. Dodson first asked Donald Trump: “‘What are you using to pay for these courses?’ And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million. So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time. Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.’”

On May 7, 2017, Eric Trump called Dodson’s claim “categorically untrue” and “complete garbage.”

Mueller’s plea deals, grants of immunity, and grand jury subpoena power give him the ability to get the bottom of these money laundering claims and denials. 

Fake News?

President Trump routinely dismisses his Russian ties as “fake news”. There is nothing “fake” about Trump’s documented business relationship with Felix Sater, or about Sater’s DOJ status as a convicted racketeer and longtime FBI informant. Russian crime bosses either financed Trump’s real estate projects with laundered money, or they did not.

There is nothing fake about the parade of guilty pleas, criminal convictions, and departures among Trump’s inner circle of friends, loyal campaign officials, and former cabinet members. A high number of them have already “flipped” on Trump.

Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has his own private lawyer in the Russia investigation, finally distanced himself from Trump last Thursday in a highly public fashion. In response to a Trump tweet that Session “never took control” of the Department of Justice, Sessions pushed back and issued a strongly worded statement saying, "While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

President Trump may be spared a federal criminal prosecution until he is out of office, but his children may not be so lucky. This is particularly true for Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump, who interacted with the Russians while overseeing the family’s real estate empire.

Finally, laundering “dirty” Russian mafia money and channeling it through Europe to a Trump company bank account in New York is NOT politically protected activity. It is NOT a Democrat or Republican issue. If this scenario is true, then it constitutes the commission of one or more major federal crimes. Everybody who knowingly participated in this criminal conduct is complicit. Anyone who tries to stop, obstruct, or otherwise impede a criminal investigation into this matter is committing obstruction of justice.

Photo: Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Paul Manafort has a rough time last week. Things are about to get much worse in Donald Trump's world.

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