Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Manafort Revelations Show Trump Team Crime, Legacy Of Injustice


by Andrew Kreig
editor, Justice Integrity Project

Among the remarkable Mueller probe revelations last week was the claim that attorneys for former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort have been sharing confidential information about the special counsel’s investigation with the legal team of “Individual 1,” aka President Trump.

The New York Times broke the main story electronically on Nov. 27 under the headline, Manafort’s Lawyer Is Said to Have Briefed Trump Team on Mueller Talks. Reporters Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere and Maggie Haberman wrote:
A lawyer for Paul Manafort repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.

The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed.
A number prominent legal pundits soon warned that such cooperation was not only rare but could be regarded as criminally illegal and / or unethical, thereby triggering potential liability for President Trump, Manafort and the lawyers involved. Potential problems could include obstruction of justice (under the theory that the actions could have the intent and effect of undermining the special counsel’s investigation). The conduct also could provide grounds for impeachment of Trump and potential bar sanctions against attorneys involved.

More importantly, the controversy illustrates continuing tension between the federal enforcement “community” and the opportunists (or worse) who operate within the justice system or on its fringes. Such conflicts are especially important and outrageous as the Trump administration draws upon some of the very worst Bush administration attorneys.

Among the many such shocking situations, this column focuses on three such officials who have become extremely prominent and otherwise newsworthy, in part because of their ties to President Trump and his team.
Manafort’s lead defense attorney, Kevin Downing, is a former senior litigator within the Justice Department’s tax fraud section, which missed a series of colossal tax frauds, including by Downing’s future client Manafort. Downing reportedly is also one of the attorneys involved in the liaison with the Trump White House that the New York Times reported last week;
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta as U.S. attorney for Miami in the Bush administration was involved both in major tax fraud cover-ups and also in whitewashing the federal-state prosecution of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is a Trump friend and neighbor who is back in the news this week with the beginning of a major defamation trial in West Palm Beach, Florida; and
Our third Bush-era former Justice Department official is Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump named as acting attorney general after Whitaker tried out for the job by arguing on cable news shows that Mueller’s investigation are excessive and unwarranted. Whitaker’s career includes a stint as a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for southern Iowa, where he vigorously prosecuted one of his political enemies whom a jury acquitted in just two hours.
An Overview

Let’s provide some context before exploring more thoroughly the abusive conduct of these three officials-- and the utter failure of watchdog mechanisms, whether in the Justice Department, courts, Congress or the media, to do much about these problems, at least so far.

The problem of rogue officials using their powers within the U.S. Justice Department for political purposes exploded into the national consciousness in late 2006 and early 2007 with the so-called “U.S. Attorney firing scandal.” Bush administration forced the resignation of nine (by some counts eight) of the nation’s 93 powerful regional U.S. attorneys.

Most of the mainstream media focused on the injustice visited upon that handful of prosecutors who were fired for their failure to bring political cases (often involving prosecuting Democrats on flimsy charges, including “corruption” and “vote fraud”).

Yet the much larger real scandal was the actions by the remaining U.S. attorneys around the nation to keep their jobs despite pressures from Bush White House senior advisor Karl Rove and ambitious political operatives in the Justice Department.

Their goal? Apparently this: To drive prominent Democrats out of office and into prison, often via flimsy “corruption” charges of the kind that framed (there’s no other word for it) former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, his state’s most prominent Democrat. 

Siegelman was sentenced to prison for a seven-year term, with significant segments in solitary confinement to punish him for interviews about the gross injustice. The nearly two decades of prosecutions have helped destroy the Alabama Democratic Party aside from the unique circumstance of former Siegelman attorney Doug Jones' victory over accused pedophile Roy Moore for a U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick to become attorney general last year.

Other goals of the politically driven Bush Justice Department included protecting important Republicans and Republican-oriented institutions from prosecution. Another was to lay the groundwork for current voter suppression efforts by hoked-up prosecutions and fear-mongering about the largely non-existent problem of individual voter fraud while ignoring larger scale efforts to rig entire elections, particularly in swing states.

Down With Tyranny was prominent among the news outlets, primarily in the alternative media, that helped expose these problems in the Siegelman case and similar situations. One of dozens of reports that I wrote about this was for the Huffington Post in 2009, “Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows... $300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company.”

Democrats Forgive, Forget?

Sadly, however, the Obama administration took little interest in documented injustices in these kinds of cases throughout the nation.

In many instances, Obama officials sought to ratify in the courts the abusive tactics initiated by the Bush Justice Department. Obama Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and Solicitor Gen. Elena Kagan, for example, opposed Siegelman’s appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that had been endorsed by unprecedented numbers of law professors and former state attorneys general who underscored the injustice of his prosecution. Holder, after a recent speaking appearance at the Center for American Progress seeking to energize Democratic voters this year, told me in a brief interview that he was not familiar with the Siegelman case. That was a brush-off given the case’s notoriety. Holder had fired a Justice Department whistleblower against the government’s tactics {See “From Justice Dream Job to Nightmare…Tamarah Grimes, Justice Department Paralegal… Why This Whistleblower Was Dissed & Dismissed”, KNOW: The Magazine For Paralegals.} As if that weren’t enough to focus Holder’s attention on Alabama, his late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone, had integrated the University of Alabama in an iconic desegregation advance.

Where's Accountability?

So here we are, December 2018. The public faces large numbers of lingering injustices from the Bush era and large cadres of “law enforcers” from that period who have positioned themselves for higher office in an even more lawless Trump administration.

Let’s look again at Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead defense attorney. The Manafort prosecution includes, among other charges, jury verdicts and Manafort’s later guilty plea involving Manafort’s receipt of $60 million in income from 2012 to 2016, a period when he reported just $13 million.

Downing left the Justice Department as a senior litigation counsel in mid-2012 for private practice. His representation of Manafort raises questions about "revolving door" justice.

In fairness to Downing, Manafort’s wrongdoing described in the Mueller indictment thus largely fell outside of Downing’s prominent role at the Justice Department’s tax fraud section. It's true also that Downing received an award from Holder for prosecuting fraud by Switzerland-based UBS, one of the world’s most influential financial companies.

However, the whistleblowing former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld portrays Downing in Birkenfeld’s 2016 memoir Lucifer’s Banker as one of the villains in what became one of the leading documented financial fraud investigations in U.S. history.

Birkenfeld asserts that Downing and his Justice Department team reacted with scorn and other hostility when Birkenfeld came to them voluntarily in 2007 with massive evidence revealing the identities of what he called 19,000 U.S. tax cheats who were part of a tax and money laundering fraud that UBS was perpetrating against the U.S. Treasury and public.

Birkenfeld writes that Downing and his team, under pressure for another major investigation that was failing, appeared to be frightened at the prospect of criminally prosecuting the powerful UBS and its ultra-wealthy clients. Instead, Birkenfeld alleges that they made him a convenient scapegoat with the help of the Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta.

Birkenfeld, a fall guy by his account, received a three-year prison term even though he was the one who alerted the federal government to the massive scheme and brought them the documentary evidence. Meanwhile, the Justice Department handled UBS higher-ups and their crooked clients almost entirely via civil actions far less onerous than criminal prosecution. At the same time, Birkenfeld and his attorneys learned in the midst of his ordeal that the Internal Revenue Service was collecting $15 billion in taxes and penalties from the UBS scandal, leading to a $104 million whistleblower award for Birkenfeld.

That’s history. What may be ahead is a claim by some legal pundits that Manafort, his attorneys and Trump’s team appear to have illegally colluded by conveying information this fall after Manafort’s plea deal in mid-September, as reported in the New York Times story.

Several experts have said there is no basis for “joint defense agreement” between a defendant who has pleaded guilty and others who are fighting the special counsel. We are reaching out to Downing for comment.

The Epstein Pedophile Scandal

Acosta, a Harvard-educated son of Cuban immigrants, became assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights beginning in 2003. 

The positioning provided the Bush administration with the politically useful, especially in Florida, a public image of a Hispanic professional in a key post. As it turns out, many of the key hiring decisions there were being made by Acosta's aide, Bradley Schlozman, who would be rebuked by the department’s Inspector General for improperly favoring conservatives in hiring decisions. 

Schlozman went on to become U.S. attorney in Kansas City where he became a notorious vote-suppression and "voter fraud" zealot who sought to crucify Democrats and minorities for relatively trivial misconduct in voter registration drives. In one such case, Schlozman and his colleagues threw the book at minimum-wage voter registration canvassers who made up names for voter registration lists but without proving that the fraud involved an effort to compromise actual voting. Yet that prosecution could be touted as "voter fraud" requiring "reforms" best categorized these as the voter suppression increasingly common in many GOP-controlled voting regions.

Acosta’s own most notorious action came when he approved a sweetheart plea deal for the billionaire pervert and investor Jeffrey Epstein after West Palm Beach police documented more than 100 “Jane Doe” complaints of teenage girls whom Epstein allegedly victimized in a ring targeting junior high and high school girls. Epstein used surrogates to recruit the girls to give him "massages" that evolved into sexual encounters at his mansion located in a ritzy area just a mile from the Mar-a-Lago estate Epstein’s friend Donald Trump.

What helped make the case outrageous is that Acosta ended a joint federal-state investigation with a highly unusual plea deal whereby Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution. Under a highly unusual provision of the plea deal, the government agreed not to investigate anyone else, including those who recruited the girls and Epstein’s high-powered friends. They included Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom.

As it turned out, Epstein served just 13 months and was permitted "work release" whereby he could leave a West Palm Beach jail during the day and return at night during his sentence. Acosta did not inform victims and their families of the terms of the sweetheart plea deal. That has prompted years of acrimony, litigation and adverse news commentary, including a major Miami Herald investigation published on Nov. 28 entitled "Perversion of Justice."

Herald reporters led by Julie K. Brown identified 60 victims, among other sources, focusing heavily on Acosta's decision-making more than a decade ago. Their powerful stories included How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime.

Trump apparently rewarded Acosta by naming him in February 2017 as nominee to become Secretary of Labor, the federal government’s main post protecting American workers.

Some reporters at that point (including me) promptly highlighted Acosta's role in the Epstein case but senators proved too timid to question him in depth about it before his confirmation.

My colleague Wayne Madsen, editor of the Wayne Madsen Report and a former Navy intelligence officer, last year began reporting that two girls, aged 12 and 13, filed legal papers alleging that Epstein and Trump had raped them in the early 1990s in New York City.

Defendants denied the claims. The girls then withdrew their allegations shortly before the 2016 presidential election, with one accuser “Katie Johnson” (a pseudonym) claiming fear at the time from death threats from unknown persons.

Madsen and I documented the story last January in a series that included the segment underscoring the blackmail / extortion liabilities of such predatory behavior targeting underage girls: Trump’s multiple sex scandals endanger U.S. national security.

The accusations continue to percolate. This is in part because Acosta is reported to be a long-shot to be nominated at the next U.S. Attorney General. Trump has said he wants a loyalist in the position, unlike the now-dismissed Sessions, who recused himself from supervising Mueller because Sessions had been implicated with Russian contacts during the presidential campaign.

Beyond that, a much-delayed civil trial unfolds on Dec. 4 in West Palm Beach to resolve vexatious litigation and defamation claims between Epstein and Bradley J. Edwards and attorneys representing victims. Madsen and I were among the reporters planning to cover the trial.

The Next Mueller Boss

Finally, we revisit the appointment of the current acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, whose appointment by Trump without U.S. Senate confirmation has been widely denounced as unconstitutional tactic to shift supervision of the special counsel’s probe of alleged crime by Trump and his team away from the current supervisor, Deputy Attorney Gen. Rod Rosenstein.

As of this writing, Whitaker is not known to have interfered with the Mueller probe which Whitaker had denounced during his de facto "audition" for the Justice Department's post as a pro-Trump pundit on cable news shows. But that may be only because Whitaker's appointment is under several legal challenges, which are compounded by Whitaker’s remarkably shabby professional qualifications for such a high post.

News reports have indicated that Whitaker helped direct a scam company fined $26 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceiving customers, for example, and that the company is currently under federal criminal investigation. These dubious achievements are chronicled in our column, updated almost daily, Trump's New Acting AG Is Unfit To Serve.

As indicated by that roundup, Whitaker’s critics have found a trove of unseemly conduct in his past. But perhaps most relevant to this column’s themes is his zealous prosecution beginning in 2007 of Iowa State Sen. Matt McCoy, a gay Democrat with a seemingly bright political future.

In a pattern similar to other Bush political prosecutions across the nation, Whitaker ruthlessly targeted McCoy as corrupt for seeking commissions totaling about $2,000 from a local company. But a federal jury ultimately acquitted McCoy in just two hours, as reported by the Washington Post Nov. 9 in Whitaker’s term as U.S. attorney in Iowa draws scrutiny.

Bottom line: The injustices portrayed above largely focus on the actions of just three prominent Trump-era alumns from the Bush era. We know lots about them now. Looking ahead, one question is whether anyone is going to do much to prevent similar abuses from the Trump administration's ex-Bushie  "law enforcers" that Senate Republicans are trying to confirm en masse into the federal judiciary and Justice Department.

In January 2009, President-elect Obama tried to mollify Republicans and the public by saying that he was "looking forward, not backward" regarding alleged Republican injustices during the Bush administration. That must not happen again with the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.


Justice Integrity Project editor Andrew Kreig is a Washington, DC-based reporter, attorney and author whose non-partisan project has long investigated political prosecutions and other official misconduct, including cover-up. He has extensively covered voter suppression, the Siegelman and Manafort federal corruption cases, and corrupt actions by prominent federal officials.

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At 4:17 AM, Blogger Viktoria said...

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At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kreig nails the lid on the coffin of the democrap party. He even names the same names I've been naming for years. obamanation, holder, kagan, Clinton...

No sentient lefty voter could possibly still support that party after reading this damnation of the party oligarchy. Certainly nobody running this site can deny the obvious conclusions... unless they don't read the stuff they post.

DWT, if you refuse the epiphany still... says enough to conclude your true motives.

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come now, 5:48! the Big Money donors definitely supported obamanation, holder, kagan, Clinton, et al, with their money, and were more than adequately served. No one went to jail for war crimes OR financial improprieties. Exactly the services they purchased.

"Nothing personal. It was just business."

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No argument, 7:02. Indeed, that is my point.

As so many of DWT's articles prove, the big money supports both PARTIES so long as the ROI is sufficient. The money's ROI never benefits the masses or the commons. In fact, the money's ROI is almost always at the EXPENSE of the masses and commons.

Also, as so many of DWT's articles prove, one or two granular details at a time, the democrap PARTY is dovetailed inextricably with the money and its schemes to gain its ROI.

DWT still claims to be supportive of progress... I suppose it is presumptious of me that I (and most of we who read here) presume that means DWT self-IDs as "progressive".

The result of all these proofs, however, still fails to be an epiphany within DWT that the democrap party must be eschewed before any "progress" can ever be made.

To any objective observer, the relentless insistence, in spite of all DWT proves every day, that 'any blue must do' might be the most profound case of Stockholm syndrome ever observed.

However, there *is* another possible conclusion.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Andrew Kreig said...

I want to thank those readers who commented and also DWT's founding editor, who worked hard and expertly on short notice to provide a venue for this unusually long column that covered an unusually long and little-reported pattern in the so-called "Justice Department."


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