In the Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” three ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge as a reminder of the life he has led. This December Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Michael Flynn are a haunting reminder of the life Donald Trump has led.
Manafort, Cohen, and Flynn represent three different aspects of Trump’s life with one common denominator: lying about Russia. And Robert Mueller is using them, and their lies, to put Trump squarely in the sights of his investigation. As we learned last week from court filings, Trump now appears to be at the center of the effort to manipulate the 2016 election with these same associates who had far more contact with Russia than either Trump or they admitted publicly or to prosecutors.
Manafort spent decades working for Russian oligarchs. But, it’s his work with them for the Trump campaign that has drawn Mueller’s interest. Last week it was revealed Manafort lied about his involvement with Konstantin Kilimnik, his former Russian business associate whom it is believed is also a Russian agent. They worked together on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Putin. Manafort owed millions to Deripaska when he became Trump’s campaign chairman and offered Deripaska private briefings about the campaign in 2016 in an effort to have the debt forgiven.
Not only did Manafort lie about his involvement with Russia in numerous public interviews, but he also lied to Mueller about it. As proof, Mueller revealed electronic wire transfers and communication between Manafort and Kilimnik in the latest court filing that was heavily redacted. Furthermore, Manafort then compounded the situation when he broke his cooperation agreement with Mueller by sharing information about the investigation with Trump’s lawyers. That breach lead Mueller to bring more charges against him last week and rescind their cooperation agreement.
Next, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress about Russia. Cohen revealed he lied to Congress out of loyalty to Trump and to support his “political message.” His guilty plea, which came after spending 70 hours providing testimony to Mueller, revealed that Trump, his family, and associates worked with Russians developing business deals during his presidential campaign. At the same time the Kremlin was helping Trump’s bid for the presidency, hurting Clinton’s, and Trump was openly campaigning for better relations with Russia by ending economic sanctions against it imposed by Obama.
It is unlikely Trump will have the same epiphany as Scrooge.
Last week, the Southern District of New York threw the book at Cohen for even more lies, claiming that he was less than forthcoming to them. They outlined a series of misdeeds by Cohen including two felonies he committed at the direction of Trump using funds to pay two women to buy their silence just before the 2016 election. Prosecutors have recommended a $500,000 forfeiture, that Cohen spend 51 to 63 months in prison, and receive an additional fine when he is sentenced on December 12.
Last, but not least, Michael Flynn will be sentenced for lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia and sanctions on December 18. In fact, Flynn may be the most damaging to Trump of the three. After cooperating with Mueller’s investigation for ten months there’s reason to believe that Flynn could not only be a witness to a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but his own conduct in it.
Flynn’s involvement with Russia and his communication with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was so troubling it was one of the last two things Obama discussed with Trump on Inauguration Day. Days later, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, could be “compromised” by Russia. Furthermore, we may find out that Flynn’s own crimes may be even worse than those committed by Manafort and Cohen, especially regarding national security matters. However, his cooperation was so thorough and helpful to Mueller that he recommended Flynn receive no jail time.
In “A Christmas Carol” the Ghost said to Scrooge "I told you these were shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!” Scrooge reviews his life, admits his mistakes, and makes amends for his misdeeds. Trump has the chance to do the same. It is the right thing for Trump to do and the best thing for the country. But, it is unlikely Trump will have the same epiphany as Scrooge. Unfortunately, we may see an alternative ending to “A Christmas Carol” and that will be a nightmare indeed.