By Hazel Trice Edney (TriceEdneyWire.com) – For the first time since his election, the world of President Donald Trump appears to be actually crumbling. In one day, Thursday, August 21, his former lawyer Michael Cohen confessed that he conspired “in coordination” with Trump to pay two women to keep quiet about their affairs with Trump. In the plea, entered at the Manhattan federal courthouse, said Trump directed him to break the law in order to influence the 2016 election. Cohen says he did so, “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” meaning Donald Trump. Cohen also pled guilty to violating eight laws pertaining to bank, tax evasion and campaign finance, including the payoffs of the women. Meanwhile, in a Northern Virginia federal courthouse, after a jury deliberated the fourth day, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight of 18 charges against him. The eight convictions include filing five false tax returns; not disclosing a foreign bank account; and two instances of bank fraud in order to obtain a combined 4.4 million in loans from two banks. The jury was deadlocked on 10 other counts. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, prosecutors and defense lawyers will discuss the possibility of a retrial on those counts. The Manafort verdict was announced just before the Cohen plea deal. At Trice Edney deadline, the double news blasts, along with analysis, had only begun to permeate the airwaves and social media. The news stories appear to represent the undoing of an administration that has heretofore seemed immune to political damage regardless of how egregious the offense – including Trump’s constant racial insults and dog whistles to White supremacists. Two Trump confidants, Elliot Weisselberg, CFO of the Trump Organization and Foundation, and George Pecker, Publisher of the Enquirer Magazine have been granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for their testimony in the cases against Trump in the Southern District of New York. So far, Trump’s responses to the announcements of the two felony convictions have leaned toward his reframe that the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has still not turned up any Russian collusion, the basis for the original investigation. But the investigation now continues as members of Congress watch closely. As mid-term elections draw closer, a Democratic majority in the House could spell certain impeachment for the President if there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity on his part. Trump said, “This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace.”
By Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.)
The endurance of our nation’s security, sovereignty, and democracy is not a partisan issue. This is a top concern for all Americans and should be a top priority for the leaders that we send to Washington, whether Democrat or Republican. As elected officials, my colleagues and I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We, therefore, have a responsibility to do our due diligence in investigating Russian interference, and potential influence, into our democratic elections and the potential Russian ongoing connections within this current presidential administration.
Despite all of the evidence gathered thus far – evidence that has led all 17 of the U.S. intelligence agencies to conclude with confidence that the Russians had indeed interfered in the past election – the current administration seems unable or unwilling to put its full weight behind a full and proper investigation that seems necessary to the American people. In the face of evidence that campaign and administration officials seem to have had relationships with Russian officials, the president cannot simply move on from this issue. In fact, the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn this month seems to provide us with more questions than answers.
The potential conflicts between the Trump Administration and its apparent ties to Russia seem numerous. The president has refused to release his tax returns – a move not seen from any other modern major party candidate – leaving questions unanswered as to potential Russian business ties and conflicts of interest that President Trump was all too happy to gloat about in years past. The president is unable to criticize Russia and its dictator-like leader Vladimir Putin, but, instead, praises him and prefers him to President Obama.
When confronted with the assertion that Putin has had journalists and political opponents killed, President Trump doubled down on his support of Putin by shockingly asserting a moral equivalence between Russia and the United States.
The president’s ties to Russia don’t end with him, however, they trickle down into his administration. As in the campaign, President Trump continues to surround himself with advisers that have expansive and well-documented financial entanglements to Russia. Recently, “The New York Times” reported that phone records show Trump associates communicated with senior Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign, including his former campaign chair Paul Manafort, who is known to have involvements in multimillion-dollar business deals with Putin allies in Ukraine. Additionally, Michael Flynn was forced to resign following information revealing that he had lied about privately discussing U.S sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, a potentially illegal act. It has since been reported that White House officials were made aware of Flynn’s actions and made no effort to correct the record. It was only after leaks to the public that President Trump’s hand was forced, raising concerns regarding the ability of this White House to maintain honest and open communication with the American people.
This intricate web leaves us with critical questions that must be answered. What did the President know and when? Was the White House ignoring or covering up the truth and spreading misinformation? Did Flynn operate at the direction or the knowledge of the President and were others involved? The American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s financial, personal and political strings attached to President Trump and this administration.
Now more than ever, we need an independent, bipartisan commission to fully investigate Russia’s interference in the election and any potential Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin. Unfortunately, Republican leaders in the House seem less than enthusiastic about investigating their own President. In turn, last month, Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reintroduced legislation that would create a 12-member, bipartisan, independent commission empowered to conduct an in-depth investigation into attempts by the Russian government or others to use electronic means to influence, interfere with, or undermine trust in last year’s elections. This would be similar to the highly-praised 9/11 Commission – which was led by well-regarded national security experts that were not elected officials. Such a commission is not only necessary in order to ensure our security, but to restore trust in this administration and in the democratic process. All Democratic members of the House of Representatives, along with one Republican, have co-sponsored this critical bipartisan legislation.
The American people deserve transparency and peace of mind when it comes to their elected leadership. The Trump Administration has insisted on remaining friendly with Russia despite the very clear threat that they have presented to our national security. In doing so, they have put our nation at risk while keeping American citizens in the dark. The Trump Administration’s intent to ignore these ongoing acts of aggression sends a message that this type of meddling is acceptable. The only democratic way forward is to launch a complete investigation into not only the interference into our democratic election, but also into the ties and communication that this administration has had with Russia.
U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District and is the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.