COVEN UNCOVERED: THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY TO ELECT A COMPROMISED PRESIDENT
Untitled, Watercolor, 29” x 12.5”, Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1990, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
This is an update to my September 10, 2017 post, RUSSIAN PHALLUSY. I must credit Rachel Maddow’s November 30, 2018 brilliant analysis.
AN INTERSECTION OF TRUMP’S TIES TO RUSSIA, HIS LIES ABOUT RUSSIA, SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA, AND A CONSPIRACY TO INSTALL A COMPROMISED CANDIDATE IN THE OVAL OFFICE
Mr. Cohen’s recent plea colloquy in the Southern District of New York fills some gaps in this fascinating mosaic. He admitted having made false statements to Congress about Individual 1’s attempts—through at least June 2016—to consummate the construction of another monument to himself. Mr. Trump’s efforts in Russia apparently extended, effectively, until he received the GOP nomination and, coincidentally, until the Trump Tower New York meeting among Jr., Kushner, Manafort and a bunch of Russian operatives.
Simply stated, Mr. Trump desperately wanted to erect another tower, this one in Moscow, a crowning jewel he had sought for years. Mr. Trump was willing to “gift” Mr. Putin a penthouse suite as inducement to give the green light. Over that period, it appears, the Kremlin was cultivating Mr. Trump’s compromise. The 2015-16 GOP presidential candidate and eventual nominee was deceiving the American electorate by repeatedly denying any contact or connection with or business or financial ties to or in Russia, an arch enemy of the United States and much of the Western world. A key consequence of his lies to the American electorate about his lack of ties to Russia, of course, was that Russia knew better. Mr. Trump knew Mr. Putin could expose his repeated efforts, contacts, connections, business and financial ties to Russia, including an attempt to bribe a foreign official (frowned upon by US law), and his web of lies about that complex relationship. Russia, an adversary of the West, the NATO Alliance and in particular the United States, loved nothing more than the prospect of a compromised candidate in the Oval Office, a tainted administration that could, among many other benefits to Russia, lift or soften Obama-era sanctions against Russia and many Russian individuals under the Magnitsky Act. Likewise, Mr. Trump could not complete a Moscow tower project without Mr. Putin’s support and financing by a Russian bank. Sanctions imposed under the Obama Administration prevented Mr. Trump from obtaining the Russian financing.
Both sides getting what they wanted, installing Mr. Trump would be a win-win.
The assortment of federal crimes Mr. Trump’s crime-family/-syndicate (racketeering influenced corrupt organization) implicates is growing. I discuss some, but not nearly all, below. I have discussed and am certain I will again discuss, obstruction of justice, perjury, money laundering, a variety of fraud-based crimes, and a litany of other federal crimes in other posts.
• FALSE STATEMENT
• FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT VIOLATIONS
• TRAVEL ACT VIOLATIONS
• CONSPIRACY TO DEFRAUD THE UNITED STATES
• CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT ANY OFFENSE AGAINST THE UNITED STATES
As I was writing a post about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act last year, news outlets began disclosing direct evidence to what the circumstantial evidence had strongly pointed throughout Mr. Trump's campaign and his presidency: unmistakable documentation of at least one reason for Mr. Trump's willingness to sell America’s soul to Russia: his plan to build another monument to himself, the biggest of all—and smack in the middle of Moscow. Putin would, if the foreplay went as planned, approve it, authorize the financing, and help erect it. The phallus would, as with the others, bear a Trump-stamp.
When I originally posted Russian Phallusy, I speculated that Mr. Trump might have bribed or attempted to bribe a foreign official, making relevant the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We now have reason to believe Mr. Trump sweetened the deal by offering Mr. Putin a penthouse worth $50,000,000.00. That’s a lot of rubles, 3,354,600,000.00 to be exact.
Exposure of Mr. Trump’s efforts in Russia followed another disclosure, this one made by Jr. Jr. was shamed into revealing emails about the high-level meeting at the New York City edifice where well-connected people discussed Russian assistance in turning over dirt on candidate Clinton. What was the connection, if any, to Mr. Trump’s compromised status from the Trump Moscow project including an attempt to bribe Mr. Putin? That’s becoming clear.
Mr. Trump, of course, ran and runs a campaign of deception. Chief among the lies were his attempts to trick the American electorate into believing he had zero ties to Russia—salacious, collusive, or financial; past or present. Was Mr. Trump in the planning stages or simply grooming a despotic leader whom he admired but hoped to manipulate and outsmart (while, in fact, Mr. Putin was, rather easily, outsmarting Mr. Trump). As with most things Trump, the observable world belies his words. Along with the rest of the civilized world, we can assume that whatever Mr. Trump says is at best meant to deceive. That’s not cynicism. It’s verifiable, statistical fact. Mr. Trump is now engaged in a propaganda campaign to convince the American people he never said he had no active business activities or efforts in Russia. He did and it was all business as usual.
After the mid-term elections and as the Mueller investigation zeros in on Mr. Trump and those close to him, whether Mr. Trump himself violated federal and/or state criminal laws in this mosaic of nefarious activity still matters, but matters less. Selling America’s soul ought to be enough to cause the Congress, a constitutional check on executive power and abuses, to invoke the Impeachment Clause.
Untitled, Watercolor, 21” x 29”, Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1990, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
THE COVER-UP—FALSE STATEMENT
The Special Counsel has brought false statement charges against a number of people who were within Mr. Trump’s inner circle. Mr. Flynn. Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Gates. Mr. Cohen. Mr. van der Zwaan. They have pleaded guilty. Some have served or are serving their time. And there might be more false statement charges in the near future. The elements of the crime of false statement are below. Bottom line, which I try to drill into my clients, is you either keep your mouth shut or you tell the truth, and hopefully you remain silent until you have the opportunity to consult counsel. The false statement statute reads:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years . . . .
Clearly, Mr. Trump attracts a certain kind of person. These people in Mr. Trump’s inner circle lied for a reason, maybe the same reason, to cover up something specific, something of intense interest to the Mueller investigation. Whom were they protecting? What were they covering up? Why? Not out of the realm of possibility is that someone, including a person charged with making a false statement, reached an agreement with at least one other person, say Individual 1, to engage in a cover-up by giving a false statement. Hence, the conspiracy statute could also come into play, as could obstruction. As a news analysis in yesterday’s Times explained:
“If the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has proved anything in his 18-month-long investigation — besides how intensely Russia meddled in an American presidential election — it is that Mr. Trump surrounded himself throughout 2016 and early 2017 with people to whom lying seemed to be second nature.
“They lied to federal authorities even when they had lawyers advising them, even when the risk of getting caught was high and even when the consequences for them were dire.
“Even more Trump associates are under investigation for the same offense. They are part of a group of people surrounding Mr. Trump — including some White House and cabinet officials — who contribute to a culture of bending, if not outright breaking, the truth, and whose leading exemplar is Mr. Trump himself.
“Mr. Trump looks for people who share his disregard for the truth and are willing to parrot him, ‘even if it’s a lie, even if they know it’s a lie, and even if he said the opposite the day before,’ said Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer. They must be ‘loyal to what he is saying right now,’ she said, or he sees them as ‘a traitor.’
“Campaign aides often echoed Mr. Trump’s pronouncements knowing they were false. People joined the top levels of his administration with the realization that they would be expected to embrace what Mr. Trump said, no matter how far from the truth or how much their reputations suffered.”
Mueller Exposes the Culture of Lying that Surrounds Trump
FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT
In 1977 Congress enacted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) which makes it illegal to offer, promise or provide anything of value to a government official (non-US) in order to obtain or retain business. As for a $50,000,000.00 attempted bribe, for example, the United States appears to believe its people (including corporations, since they are people, too) ought not to induce violations of public trust—corruption—in other countries. Violations are also anti-competitive, undermine and skew markets and value (not unlike insider trading), and otherwise circumvent oversight and regulation. Nothing, or very little, is on the merits when induced by bribery or Trumpism—the epitome of self-interest. Violations of the FCPA often implicate by their nature crimes against money laundering in the United States.
Based on how Mr. Trump has acted and reacted in the face of the Emoluments Clause, how he has danced around the tax returns issue and responded to reports that the Mueller investigation has expanded into international business transactions; based on what the fake media have published (including verbatim Mr. Trump and publicly-available records); based on what is reported about Mr. Trump’s and his associates’/relatives’ international business practices; and based on the unabashed venality that largely defines who and what Trump is—how likely is Mr. Mueller to examine those practices through the filter of the FCPA? Now that Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty to a false statement and mentioned what clearly appears to be an attempt to bribe Mr. Putin (which gave the Kremlin extortion rights over Mr. Trump), one would have to conclude it’s likely. It’s worth pausing here to note that the criminal and civil penalties for violation of the FCPA are onerous.
The FCPA is a federal criminal statute that prohibits (1) US citizens, corporations, companies, businesses and foreign entities that trade on a US market, (2) from bribing—giving, offering or promising anything of value, (3) foreign officials—broadly defined also to include foreign political parties and party officials, candidates for foreign political office and foreign government-owned entities, (4) with the intent to create or maintain business.
Violation of the FCPA carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine.
INTERSTATE AND FOREIGN TRAVEL OR TRANSPORTATION IN AID OF RACKETEERING ENTERPRISES ACT (TRAVEL ACT)
A close companion to the FCPA is the Travel Act and more specifically its anti-bribery provisions which criminalize (1) the use of a facility of foreign or interstate commerce—e.g., mail, email, telephone, personal travel, (2) to violate the FCPA—give, offer or promise anything of value, (3) to a foreign official, (4) with the intent to create or maintain business.
Yes, each email, telephone call, text message, fax or flight to, say, the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, constitutes a separate violation, even if it involves only one gift, offer or promise. As with the FCPA, violation of the Travel Act carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine.
CONSPIRACY TO DEFRAUD THE UNITED STATES
The Special Prosecutor has charged Russians and is likely to charge others, including possibly Mr. Trump and many in his entourage, who were involved in Russia's interference and influence of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Setting aside the tired drivel about "collusion," this type of conspiracy is a criminal partnership to defraud the United States or one of its agencies. The federal conspiracy statute says:
"If two or more persons conspire . . . to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." 18 U.S.C. § 371.
One becomes a member of a conspiracy by agreeing to participate, knowing of at least one of its objects [e.g., to undermine the sovereignty of the election] and intending to help accomplish it [e.g., by hacking and distributing DNC emails]. The crime of conspiracy is complete when one or more of its members performs at least one overt act [e.g., hacking into the DNC] for the purpose of carrying out the object of the conspiracy [e.g., influencing the outcome of the election].
Completion of the crime of conspiracy does not depend on whether the desired outcome was successful. A foiled, failed or abandoned effort to influence the United States presidential election does not erase the fact that a criminal conspiracy was committed.
The “overt act(s)” for advancing the purpose of the conspiracy is a distinct element of the conspiracy and should not be confused with the conspiracy itself. For example, one may illegally hack into the DNC and steal emails as an “overt act” to accomplish the object of the conspiracy, but the hack, which itself is a separate crime, is not the object of the conspiracy. Influencing the outcome of the election is the object of the conspiracy.
On February 16, 2018, a grand jury returned an Indictment against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies alleging a conspiracy to defraud the United States. The Indictment alleges:
“From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016. . . . The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
United States v. Internet Research Agency, et al., United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1, Filed 02/16/18, at 2–3, 12.
CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT ANY OFFENSE AGAINST THE UNITED STATES
The more common type of conspiracy is to commit an underlying offense against the United States. The federal conspiracy statute says:
"If two or more persons conspire . . . to commit any offense against the United States, . . . and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." 18 U.S.C. § 371.
The meaning of conspiring “to commit any offense against the United States is more easily understood and applied, in my estimation. “Offenses” are set forth and defined in federal criminal statutes—laws passed by Congress—primarily, but not exclusively, in Title 18 of the United States Code. The crime of conspiracy to commit any offense against the United States is complete when two or more persons agree to violate a United States criminal statute [rob a bank, for example] and one or more of its members performs at least one overt act for the purpose of carrying out the object of the conspiracy [e.g., steals a handgun for use in the heist].
The Special Counsel has brought charges under this statute as well. For example, on July 13, 2018, a grand jury returned an indictment against 12 Russian nationals in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. That indictment alleges a conspiracy to violate a number of specific criminal statutes, separate underlying offenses, including Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers, 18 U.S.C. 1030, Aggravated Identity Theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A, and Conspiracy to Launder Money, 18 U.S.C. 1956. The first couple of pages of the indictment lay out the theory and those separate crimes:
“In or around 2016, the Russian Federation ('Russia') operated a military intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff ('GRU'). The GRU had multiple units . . . engaged in cyber operations that involved staged releases of documents stolen through computer intrusions. These units conducted large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Defendants . . . were GRU officers who knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the 'Conspirators'), to gain unauthorized access (to 'hack') into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. . . .
“Beginning in or around June 2016, the Conspirators staged and released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents. They did so using fictitious online personals including 'DCLeaks' and 'Guccifer 2.0.'
“The Conspirators also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization ('Organization1'), that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government. The Conspirators continued their U.S. election-interference operations through in or around November 2016.
“To hide their connections to Russia and the Russian government, the Conspirators used false identities and made false statements about their identities. To further avoid detection, the Conspirators used a network of computers located across the world, including in the United States, and paid for this infrastructure using cryptocurrency.”
United States v. Netyksho, et al https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2018/07/Muellerindictment.pdf
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamend