Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Former Trump Aide Paul Manafort pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with Mueller investigation
After months of vowing to fight for his innocence, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort conceded to committing several federal crimes and agreed to work with the Justice Department, including in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, DC, on September 14 to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice due to attempts to tamper with witnesses. Friday’s court activity signals Mueller’s investigation will continue and delve deeper into what Manafort knows. Even in lessening the charges against Manafort, prosecutors still have significant leverage over him if he isn’t helpful to their investigation. Manafort’s decision to cooperate with Mueller comes just weeks after President Donald Trump called Manafort a “brave man” who would not “make up stories in order to get a ‘deal'” after he was convicted in a separate trial in Virginia. He also admitted to all the other crimes Mueller accused him of since last October, from money laundering and bank fraud to foreign lobbying violations related to his work for pro-Russian Ukrainians. Those charges will be dropped if he completely complies with the cooperation agreement. “I plead guilty,” Manafort said to the judge near the end of the hour-long hearing. Special counsel’s office senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge that under Manafort’s plea agreement, the other charges will be dropped after he is sentenced in both Virginia and DC “or at the agreement of successful cooperation.”
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Manafort’s cooperation deal means he will have to meet with the special counsel’s office when they want to speak with him about other criminal activities, turn over all documents relevant to the investigation, testify when needed and never lie to them. The terms do not prevent other parts of the Justice Department or state and local authorities from bringing new charges. He also could face administrative claims from the government, the agreement says. “Your client shall testify fully, completely and truthfully before any and all Grand Juries in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, and at any and all trials of cases or other court proceedings in the District of Columbia and elsewhere,” the plea agreement, which Manafort signed a day before, says. While President Donald Trump is not mentioned in Friday’s filing, nor is Manafort’s role in his campaign, the news of the cooperation comes as the President continued to lambast the Mueller investigation on Twitter this week. In a statement to the press after the news of Manafort’s cooperation, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
In recent days as the Manafort plea talks were ongoing, the President’s legal team expressed confidence that if Manafort signed a cooperation agreement it wouldn’t have anything to do with the President, according to a source briefed on their thinking. In a statement on September 15, the President’s attorney Rudy Giuliani reiterated that confidence. “Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong,” said Giuliani. The White House had previously distanced itself from Manafort and downplayed his time leading the Trump campaign. But last month, Trump expressed sympathy for him and encouragement that he hadn’t flipped. “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” President Trump tweeted the week of Manafort’s conviction in his Virginia trial. “‘Justice’ took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make-up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
In their filing, prosecutors describe Manafort’s scheme to take in more than $60 million from pro-Russian Ukrainians and launder that money to avoid paying taxes. His admissions include his use of offshore bank accounts to move the money, deceiving his accountants and bookkeeper and then spending the money on lavish purchases and real estate. He also admitted to lying to banks about his assets to gain millions of dollars in loans as a way to supplement his income, according to the filing. “Manafort cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes,” the filing states, adding that in order to commit the crimes, he relied on help from both his longtime deputy Rick Gates and the Russian Konstantin Kilimnik.
2. Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Under Fire For Alleged Sexual Assault
What was expected to be a relatively easy confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh took an interesting turn this week with the revelation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, currently a Palo Alto University Psychology professor. On September 16, Ford went public with her allegation of sexual misconduct on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Speaking with the Washington Post, Ford said that Kavanaugh attempted to assault her several times when they were in high school during the early 1980s. The report was issued shortly after it had been revealed that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had received a letter detailing alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. The constituent letter sent to Feinstein was initially kept confidential by the Senator, and its existence was only revealed to the public after a report last week by the Intercept. Soon after, other outlets started reporting about the letter as well. At the time, Feinstein would not comment publicly on the matter, saying that she had “received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.” As a result of the allegations, both Kavanaugh and Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 17, further dragging on an already strenuous conformation process.
Brett Kavanaugh immediately denied the allegations, stating that”he had never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.” Additionally, in response to the allegations, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a letter signed by 65 women who knew Kavanaugh when he attended Georgetown Prep that attempts to refute the allegations. “Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity,” the letter reads, in part. “In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day.”
Despite the serious nature of the allegations, the overall response by politicians from both political parties has been mixed. Senior officials in the Trump Administration said that the new allegation has no bearing on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. There was “no way” Kavanaugh’s nomination would be withdrawn after the accusation was revealed. “If anything, it’s the opposite,” said an attorney close to the Trump Administration. “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.” On the other hand, all ten Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have called on the nomination vote to be postponed. Additionally, Former Vice President Joe Biden (who is gearing up for a potential 2020 Presidential run) stated that “Professor Ford deserves a fair and respectful hearing” and called for Kavanaugh to step down if the allegations are in fact true.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 17, 2018
3. US recalls diplomats in El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic over Taiwan
On September 15, the Trump Administration said that it has recalled its top diplomats in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama over those countries’ decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan. President Donald Trump has expressed concern over the rising number of countries that have cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China. El Salvador switched ties last month, while the Dominican Republic did so in May and Panama made the move last year. Self-ruled Taiwan now has formal relations with only 17 countries, almost all of them small and less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru. Like most other countries, the US does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s main arms supplier and strongest international backer.
The actions on the part of the Trump Administration are triggered in part by an ever-declining relationship between the US and China. In recent weeks, the ongoing trade war between the US and China has expanded, with China placing $60 billion in tariffs on goods produced in the US, whereas, the US has placed $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. The status of Taiwan plays a central part in much of the disputes between the US and China. Even though Taiwan has been under self-rule since 1949, the Chinese government considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces and has threatened to use force to bring Taiwan under its rightful control.