Mueller ramps up pressure on Trump associates
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe took an ominous turn for President Trump this week, after it was revealed that his longtime adviser Roger Stone met with a Russian national who tried to sell dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was jailed for allegedly tampering with witnesses. A federal judge revoked Manafort’s bail after prosecutors accused him and a Russian aide and political operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, of using encrypted messages to contact two witnesses. Manafort will remain in detention until his trial in September on charges related to his business dealings, including conspiracy and money laundering. Stone, meanwhile, told reporters that he met in May 2016 with a Russian named Henry Greenberg who offered him damaging information on Clinton in exchange for $2 million. He said he declined the deal because Trump “doesn’t pay for anything.”
As the president downplayed his association with Manafort, saying he worked for his campaign for a “very short period of time,” his legal team stepped up its attacks on the special counsel. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani called the probe “illegal and unauthorized” and said, “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice could be finished by Sept. 1 if the president sat for an interview, Giuliani said, but he cast doubt on that happening. “You don’t,” he explained, “put your client in a kangaroo court.”
What the columnists said
Throwing Manafort in jail was “ridiculous and unconstitutional,” said Jenna Ellis in WashingtonExaminer.com. “Talking to witnesses is not the same thing as witness tampering.” It’s actually standard practice for defense teams to contact potential witnesses ahead of a trial. But “overzealous prosecutors” were willing to violate Manafort’s right to due process to pressure him into cooperating with the Russia investigation, and the judge played along.
Trump should take away a lesson from this: “The cover-up can also be a crime,” said Natasha Bertrand in TheAtlantic.com. George Papadopoulos. Michael Flynn. Alex van der Zwaan. Paul Manafort. All four either have decided to cooperate with Mueller or have been jailed—not because they colluded with the Kremlin, but because they lied to the FBI or tried to interfere in the Russia investigation. And that’s exactly what Trump has been accused of doing in his 2017 firing of former FBI boss James Comey.
But still Team Trump keeps lying, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Stone had previously told congressional investigators that he “had zero contacts with Russians” in the run-up to the 2016 election. Now he says he simply forgot the meeting with Greenberg, and claims that the Russian was in fact an FBI plant—a charge Greenberg denies. We’ve so far learned of 80 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia-linked operatives, and the list keeps growing. Yet the president insists his campaign had nothing to do with Moscow. “The scores of lies tell us something different.”