by WorldTribune Staff, December 13, 2018
For all the media focus on Russia, Russia, Russia, both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort wound up being convicted of pre-Trump era tax cheating in indictments brought by the special counsel whose mandate supposedly focused on Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election..
But, Robert Mueller apparently got just what he wanted out of Cohen and Manafort, security correspondent Rowan Scarborough noted in a Dec. 12 analysis for The Washington Times.
“Conservatives see decisions to prosecute them – on tax charges not remotely connected to Russian collusion – as the Justice Department’s and Mueller’s strong-arm tactics. “They wanted to force guilty pleas and then gain cooperation, with a goal of getting evidence against Trump.”
According to court filings, Cohen was charged so quickly he never got a chance to meet with the Justice Department’s Tax Division to negotiate a non-criminal solution to his tax evasion.
Manafort “thought he was in the clear in the summer of 2014 after meeting with federal prosecutors and FBI agents about his Ukrainian income, bank records and income tax returns,” Scarborough noted.
Even the judge in Manafort’s case said it was clear that it was his later association with Trump that the special counsel was targeting.
“Given the investigation’s focus on President Trump’s campaign, even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump, not defendant, and that defendant’s prosecution is part of that larger plan,” said U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. “Specifically, the charges against defendant are intended to induce defendant to cooperate with the Special Counsel by providing evidence against the President or other members of the campaign. Although these kinds of high-pressure prosecutorial tactics are neither uncommon nor illegal, they are distasteful.”
In Cohen’s case, Tom Fitton, president of the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, said: “The ‘usual practice’ has been cast aside for the Trump investigations.”
Fitton cited the raid on Cohen’s office, the wiretap warrants on a Trump volunteer based on Hillary Clinton opposition research and Department of Justice officials in regular contact with Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that facilitated the unverified anti-Trump dossier financed by Democrats.
Kevin Downing, Manafort’s defense counsel, noted that “The Office of the Special Counsel charged Manafort with the very conduct he voluntarily disclosed to DOJ almost three years prior to the appointment of Mueller as Special Counsel.”
Prosecutors in Mueller’s office “have admitted that the Special Counsel’s investigation of Manafort concerns conduct that has nothing to do with the charges in the Appointment Order’s original jurisdiction clause,” Downing said.
Downing said in court papers that the DOJ has no records of Manafort contacts with Russian officials. He said the press repeatedly reported inaccurately that there were such records.
“Today, 28 months after the FBI opened the Russia probe, Manafort has not been accused by prosecutors of the reason for their appointment – Trump election collusion,” Scarborough noted. “Manafort never was offered a chance to settle his tax delinquencies with the Justice Tax Division.”
Cohen on Dec. 12 was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
“The usual practice of review with counsel and an opportunity to be heard by the Tax Division within DOJ as to the filing of criminal charges was omitted by decision of the government,” said Cohen attorney Guy Petrillo. “In comparison, numerous allegations of unpaid tax are routinely asserted by the IRS outside of the criminal context and addressed through assessments, liens and penalties. On the merits, such an approach could readily have been taken here, because other than the unreported income itself, no aggravating … factors are present.”
Scarborough noted that “Cohen hasn’t faced Russia collusion charges. Prosecutor court filings don’t suggest he has any knowledge. He has publicly denied witnessing Russia conspiracies by anyone in the campaign.
“In the end, prosecutors got what they wanted. Cohen has emerged as perhaps the prosecution’s best witness against Trump – but not on Russia.”