Mueller’s tar­gets seem to share prob­lem with truth

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Obituaries / News - BY CHRIS MEGERIAN Los An­ge­les Times

Af­ter ly­ing to the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice to avoid pay­ing taxes and ly­ing to banks to ob­tain fraud­u­lent mort­gages, Paul Manafort was con­victed last Au­gust – and then pledged to tell the truth as part of a plea deal to avert a sec­ond trial.

But pros­e­cu­tors say Manafort, Pres­i­dent Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, lied about that, too – and they told a fed­eral judge Fri­day they may file new charges against him. A day ear­lier, Trump’s long­time lawyer, Michael Co­hen, pleaded guilty to ly­ing to Con­gress about seek­ing a Moscow real es­tate deal.

The back-to-back court hear­ings high­lighted how, one af­ter an­other, Trump’s clos­est for­mer aides and as­so­ci­ates have told brazen, au­da­cious and crim­i­nal whop­pers in the wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

“It’s like an or­ga­nized crime con­sor­tium where every­one is ly­ing and ob­fus­cat­ing, ex­cept it’s an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pres­i­dent of the United States and his cam­paign,” said Harry Lit­man, a Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia law pro­fes­sor and for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor. “It’s such a hall of mir­rors.”

At the cen­ter of the drama is Trump, who has ex­hausted in­de­pen­dent fact check­ers with a bl­iz­zard of false­hoods. The Wash­ing­ton Post says he has made more than 6,400 false or mis­lead­ing state­ments pub­licly since tak­ing of­fice and av­er­aged 30 a day in the weeks be­fore last month’s midterm elec­tion.

More­over, Trump has cheered wit­nesses who re­sist co­op­er­at­ing with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice, and he ac­cused pros­e­cu­tors on Mueller’s team of en­cour­ag­ing Manafort and other sus­pects to lie.

“If you told the truth, you go to jail,” the pres­i­dent com­plained to the New York Post on Wed­nes­day.

De­cep­tion is a chal­lenge for any prose­cu­tor. Nick Ak­er­man, who worked with the Water­gate spe­cial prose­cu­tor, said wit­nesses “baldly lied” to the grand jury in­ves­ti­gat­ing the break-in at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters in 1972 and the sub­se­quent cover-up by the Nixon White House.

“If I had to charge ev­ery­body with per­jury and con­vict all of them, I’d still be there,” Ak­er­man said.

Still, the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion – which has led to charges against 33 people so far, in­clud­ing Manafort and Co­hen – has swamped pros­e­cu­tors with a flood of false­hoods.

George Pa­padopou­los, a for­mer Trump cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sor, was the first to go down. He pleaded guilty in Oc­to­ber 2017 to ly­ing to FBI agents about his con­ver­sa­tions with a Mal­tese pro­fes­sor who told him that Rus­sians had dirt on Hil­lary Clin­ton that in­cluded thou­sands of emails. Pa­padopou­los en­tered prison Mon­day to serve a twoweek term.

In De­cem­ber 2017, Michael Flynn, Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, pleaded guilty to falsely deny­ing that he’d dis­cussed sanc­tions with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion. He agreed to co­op­er­ate with Mueller’s team, and his sen­tenc­ing is sched­uled for Dec. 18.

Richard Gates, Trump’s deputy cam­paign chair­man, pleaded guilty in Fe­bru­ary 2018 to ly­ing about a meet­ing he at­tended while work­ing for Ukraine’s pro-Rus­sian govern­ment. As part of his plea deal, he tes­ti­fied against Manafort and is await­ing sen­tenc­ing.

Alex van der Zwaan, a for­merly Lon­don-based Dutch lawyer who worked with Gates and Manafort, also pleaded guilty that month to ly­ing about his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with a sus­pected Rus­sian agent. He served 30 days in fed­eral prison and was de­ported.

“This many liars is un­usual,” said Bar­bara McQuade, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney in Michi­gan. “This group seems par­tic­u­larly per­sis­tent.”

De­spite his pros­e­cu­tions, Mueller has strug­gled to stem the tide of lies. Among his ap­par­ent tar­gets is Jerome Corsi, the far-right writer pre­vi­ously best known for spread­ing the false­hood that Pres­i­dent Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

Ac­cord­ing to a draft court doc­u­ment that Corsi shared with the me­dia last month, pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve he lied to them about his con­ver­sa­tions with Roger Stone, a long­time Trump po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor and Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive, dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

The doc­u­ment said Stone had asked Corsi to con­tact Wik­iLeaks, which was re­leas­ing Demo­cratic Party emails that had been hacked by Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers.

Corsi told pros­e­cu­tors that he re­buffed the re­quest, but the doc­u­ment said he passed the mes­sage to some­one in Lon­don, where Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange is holed up in the Ecuadorean Em­bassy to avoid prose­cu­tion.

Corsi has de­nied any wrong­do­ing. As for Stone, he said his only of­fense was “punk­ing and bluff­ing and pos­tur­ing to drive the Democrats crazy.” Nei­ther has been charged.

Af­ter his con­vic­tion, Manafort agreed to co­op­er­ate with pros­e­cu­tors to avoid a sec­ond trial on re­lated charges in Wash­ing­ton. He pleaded guilty to two counts of con­spir­acy and be­gan meet­ing with the spe­cial coun­sel’s team.

But the plea deal un­rav­eled when pros­e­cu­tors said Manafort con­tin­ued to lie, and they’re sched­uled to de­tail their con­cerns to the court Fri­day. De­fense at­tor­neys said Manafort “be­lieves he has pro­vided truth­ful in­for­ma­tion.”

Some­times get­ting caught hasn’t chas­tened liars in the Rus­sia probe. When Pa­padapou­los was sen­tenced in Septem­ber, the fed­eral judge said he sensed “gen­uine re­morse” from the de­fen­dant.

But be­fore he went to prison last week, Pa­padopou­los cast as­per­sions on the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ac­cused of­fi­cials of en­trap­ping him.

“Big­gest re­gret?” he tweeted. “Plead­ing guilty.”

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