Ever since the people elected Donald Trump as president, the United States’ political atmosphere has been one of constant controversy, and Paul Manafort is no exception. For those of you who don’t know, Manafort is an businessman who served on President Trump’s campaign team as the campaign chairman from May to August 2016.
He was recently on trial for 18 different charges relating to fraud and corruption, and subsequently was found guilty for eight of them (one of the jurors voted not guilty for the other ten, causing mistrials). So, what exactly does that mean for President Trump, and how does it impact his presidential image?
While we can only speculate as to what President Trump will do, one thing is for certain: the Special Counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller is not a “witch hunt.”
In just over a year, Mueller’s team has indicted over 30 people and organizations and received numerous guilty pleas. To put this in perspective, the Hillary Clinton email and Benghazi investigations went on for over two years and cost over seven million dollars, and not a single person was indicted as a result of either of those investigations. However, Mueller’s investigation is about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, not about tax and bank fraud. These crimes do not seem to relate, but it actually does not matter if they don’t; the purpose of an investigation is not as important as what federal crime a person has committed.
There happens to be a significant correlation between tax fraud and Russian ties. Using campaign funds for non-campaign purposes is a federal crime. Michael Cohen, President Trump’s lawyer at the time, admitted to using campaign funds to pay off two women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs. If President Trump directed Cohen to do this, then President Trump is also guilty of this federal crime. As President Trump’s former campaign manager, Manafort may be able to confirm or deny if President Trump directed Cohen to use the funds.
While Trump claims to not have been involved in any affairs, the evidence points to the contrary. Regardless of what President Trump says now, the jury found Manafort guilty of eight other federal crimes and the evidence brought against him proved that he had close contact with pro-Russia forces during the campaign. Now, all eyes are on President Trump.
In reality, he has two options. If he chooses to pardon Manafort for his crimes, then, according to the Constitution, Manafort would then not be able to plead the Fifth Amendment should Mueller’s team question him about Russia’s involvement in the Trump campaign. In extension, they would also be able to question if Trump did actually order campaign funds to be used for non-campaign purposes. Basically, Manafort will have to give any evidence that could be used against Trump.
If Trump does not pardon Manafort, then he will likely serve a significant amount of jail time.
The prevailing opinion of legal experts is that a sitting president cannot be indicted for any crime, even though there is no constitutional basis for it. In theory, Congress can bypass the need to indict President Trump by entering into impeachment proceedings. But given the current makeup of Congress, it is extremely unlikely that our representatives would do this.
The midterm elections are looming, and since so many of those elections can swing either way, most Democrats and Republicans are simply too afraid of losing their seats to make any serious calls for progress on impeachment proceedings for President Trump.
Ultimately, I do not believe that President Trump will be indicted for any crime, even if evidence strongly suggests that he has committed one. The support for the notion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, even though it is not grounded in the constitution, is simply too strong.
I also doubt Congress will impeach President Trump. His support from constituents is too great and if any Republican dared to speak out against him, it could mean political suicide. And without Republicans calling for impeachment, it is simply not a possibility.
The most plausible avenue in my estimate is that if he loses the 2020 election, he will be immediately indicted for a few crimes. If he wins re-election, we will unfortunately have to wait four more years for justice to take its course.
David Pietrow is a second-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in computer science with a minor in applied data science. He was once hit by a bus, so if his reporting of the facts are a little off, please be forgiving.