The End For Trump, Or A Dead End for Mueller? (Pt 2/2)

The convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have led many of Trump’s media and political foes to declare the beginning of the end. Yahoo News correspondent and “Russian Roulette” co-author Michael Isikoff discusses the cases and what they mean for Trump

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. We are continuing with Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, and co-author of the bestselling book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.

OK, so Paul Manafort. He’s found guilty of 8 of 18 counts; bank fraud, tax violations. This is not his only trial. His next one comes up soon on related charges, but basically stemming from being an unrelated foreign agent for the activities in Ukraine, for which the bank fraud and tax evasion charges stemmed from, in this one. Your thoughts on the, on the meaning of this conviction when it comes to the Mueller investigation?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, it was clearly an extremely important victory for the Mueller team, needless to say. If the verdict had gone the other way and there was either a hung trial, or even an acquittal, that would have been a really painful blow, a devastating blow for the Mueller investigation. So you know, on that score it was an important victory. They brought this case. They were federal crimes. I know the pushback from the president’s team and those such as you who are skeptical about a lot of aspects of the Mueller investigation is yes, but this had nothing to do with the issue of collusion or conspiracy involving the Trump campaign and, and the Russians.

That’s true, but you know, it is also true that when federal law enforcement prosecutors and agents begin an investigation, and they come across other federal crimes, they are obligated to investigate them and prosecute them. And that’s what Mueller did here. It was entirely natural and appropriate that one would be investigating Paul Manafort, given everything that was known back in 2016 about the payments he had received from the pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. The FBI began its investigation looking into it, trying to figure out where it all lead, what it meant. They came across multiple federal felonies. Some of them were brought in this case. There’s another case that will be brought in a few weeks in September against Manafort. So this is the way our criminal justice system works. And you know, these guys are doing their job.

AARON MATE: And Manafort will likely spend a lot of time in prison. Unless, of course, he gets that pardon from President Trump. Which I think, at least based on what President Trump has said so far, seems like a pretty safe bet.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah. I mean, obviously he’ll have to take, you know, the president will take a political hit if he does that. And I think a lot is going to depend on how things play out, and what else Mueller’s got, and what else Cohen has to say. I think the case for the President bringing a pardon, issuing a pardon for Manafort while the investigation is still ongoing is is probably weaker today than it was, because the more legal troubles the President is in, the more a pardon will look like an abuse that he’s using to obstruct the criminal justice process.

So yeah, I’m sure the President would like Manafort, like to pardon Manafort, just like he’d like to fire Mueller and he liked to fire Rod Rosenstein. But he hasn’t done so. Because, you know, there are, believe it or not, political constraints on him. He’s got advisers who tell him no, Mr. President, you actually can’t do that. And I think right now a Manafort pardon would be in that category.

AARON MATE: Finally, Michael, quickly, George Papadopoulos. He is the Trump campaign volunteer who reportedly sparked the entire Trump-Russia probe codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. This happened in the summer of 2016, reportedly because an Australian diplomat conveyed to the- via the State Department that he had heard from Papadopoulos that Papadopoulos told him that he had received knowledge of the Russians possibly releasing dirt on Hillary Clinton to hurt her election chances, sparking this probe which included running informants, FBI informants on Papadopoulos, and also Carter Page, another Trump campaign volunteer.

But- so he sparked this probe, and he was seen as a possible conduit to a collusion conspiracy. But in this, in a sentencing memo which came out on Friday, Mueller says Papadopoulos has not been providing substantial assistance, and has recommended a sentence of between zero to six months. Did this surprise you? And what is your takeaway from this?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: It did surprise me that they did not get more substantial information from Papadopoulos. I mean, you know, if you read the original criminal complaint against him, you would- and put it in the context of his multiple communications via email with senior members of the Trump campaign about efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin during the campaign, I would have thought they would have gotten more. And they didn’t. So you know, that was not- it surprised me. Now, you know, what else is out there, what else is in Mueller’s files? You know, Papadopoulos may have triggered the investigation to begin with, and then faded into the role of bit player. And you know, Mueller has focused his energies in other areas. We just don’t know.

I think, you know, certainly one interpretation would be it’s a sign that Mueller may not have as much as some of us thought he did. But that’s just, you know, speculation, like I was cautioning both of us to be wary of before. That could be the case. Or it could not be the case.

AARON MATE: Wise words, and we’ll leave it there. Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, co-author of the bestselling book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Michael, thank you.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Thank you.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.