DC’s ‘Revolving Door’ Spun Smoothly for Manafort, But Not For Taxpayers

The massive coverage of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort’s tax and bank fraud scandal during recent days has so far missed almost entirely one of its most shocking and important aspects.

paul manafort cnnHow did Manafort (shown as campaign manager in 2016) get away with such brazen tax evasion and other corruption for so many years? 

Manafort’s years of corruption were part of a scandalous breakdown by the U.S. Department of Justice in prosecuting wealthy and other otherwise politically influential criminals.

At long last, Manafort's remarkable greed exposed him to some of the many honest investigators within the department who have been empowered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of larger Trump campaign and administration scandals. 

March 13 updates, as reported by the New York Times:

The Washington Post explored the the Manafort defense team's strategy of echoing Trump's comments with this analysis:

Judge strongly rebukes Manafort’s — and Trump’s — ‘no collusion’ refrain, Aaron Blake, March 13, 2019. Judge Amy Berman Jackson made several strong statements before sentencing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Wednesday. But one, in particular, struck at the core of President Trump’s personal defense in the Russia investigation.

Manafort, 69, is a Connecticut-reared and DC-educated lobbyist, strategic consultant and fixer who spent decades helping prominent U.S. Republicans, some of the world's most horrific foreign dictators, and their supporters.

The mission? To win office, reap the fruits of power, and then hide the tens of millions of dollars in loot from taxing authorities for the benefit of insiders -- most relevantly, Manafort himself.

Manafort's 47-month prison sentence in Virginia’s federal court March 7 on corruption charges was a sweetheart deal compared to the scope of Manafort's crime and lack of repentance. The judge's sentence, demeanor at trial and sentencing, and possible motives deserve far more scrutiny than they have received so far. 

Even so, the sentence prompted widespread criticism of the sentencing judge, Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, as exemplified in our own commentary in GOP Judge Disgraces Federal Bench In Manafort Sentence, Hearing.

kevin downing head portraitThe breakdown in the nation's federal justice goes far beyond the "revolving door" whereby Manafort’s lead defense attorney, Kevin Downing (shown at left), had been a top Justice Department prosecutor supposed to be fighting hard against the kinds of tax frauds that Manafort was committing for years at the same time.

Today’s report, which includes an exclusive albeit brief interview with Downing, shows that the defense counsel and some of his Justice Department peers had a wider record of coddling well-connected criminals that, fortunately for the public, is beginning to prompt some scrutiny.

At the same time, Downing and the now-notorious former U.S. attorney in Miami Alexander Acosta (a presidentially appointed position supervising federal criminal and civil litigation in that region) also prosecuted former UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) banker Bradley Birkenfeld, one of the nation’s major whistleblowers against higher-ups committing the kinds of financial crimes so attractive to Manafort.

More recently, two members of Congress, former prosecutors Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice, both Democrats, have called for a New York State Bar Association probe of Downing for his alleged improper liaison work between Manafort and the Trump administration after his client’s guilty plea last September.

That arose from Manafort's deceitful and unremorseful liaison with Trump administration lawyers (most likely to curry favor for a Trump pardon that would constitute obstruction of justice) after Manafort pleaded guilty to federal charges last September and promised to cooperate with authorities.

Hearing On March 13

amy berman jacksonU.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, right, presiding over Manafort's federal guilty plea in the District of Columbia, is scheduled to sort through this mess in a sentencing hearing schedule for the morning of today, March 13. The big question looming is whether she will impose a concurrent sentence to the one imposed by her Virginia counterpart, Ellis, or will order Manafort to serve additional time, which could be up to 10 additional years under his plea agreement.

Downing, the lead defense attorney and former prosecutor, has denied any misconduct, including during a brief, exclusive interview with the Justice Integrity Project shortly after his client was sentenced last week.

How Tax Cheats Hurt The Public

The harm that massive tax avoidance by elites and major criminals cause the public is much in the news these days, as evident to anyone who cares to look.

amazon logo smallNews reports last month indicated that Amazon.com paid no corporate income tax in 2018 on profits of $11.2 billion, the second year in a row that Amazon.com had paid no federal income taxes.

"Thanks to the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)," wrote Kristin Muders for Yahoo Finance, based on a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, "Amazon’s federal tax responsibility is 21% (down from 35% in previous years). But with the help of tax breaks, according to corporate filings, Amazon won’t be paying a dime to Uncle Sam despite posting more than $11.2 billion in profits in 2018."

Department of Defense SealThe company, reportedly the favorite to win a $10 billion U.S. Department of Defense computing contract soon, has grown so fast that it continues to devastate competitors. These include "brick and mortar" retailers such as Sears Roebuck that have long supported the public via local, state and federal taxes.

In 2013, Amazon.com received a $600 million contract from the CIA to help the agency's cloud computing. Although Amazon.com and has reported in timely fashion these contracts and potential contracts it is far from clear that the aaverage American understands the full implications, in part because Amazon.com is such a powerhouse in the media world.

cia logoWe say it here: Amazon.com controls a remarkable amount of data, including large proportions of the nation's book, film and other purchasing preferences, and it's going in ways that are far from transparent to a corporation intimately connected to state power, including the  military-intelligence complex. But what will be will be. 

Dr. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch economist and author of the book Utopia for Realists, created headlines at this year's annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January by challenging the Western elites in attendance to understand that "tax avoidance," both legal and illegal, causes great harm to the public.

"The 'T' word is really the forbidden word in places like Davos," he told Australia's ABC News afterward. "You can talk about anything [at Davos] — about education, about feminism, about climate change — as long as you don't talk about higher taxes on the rich."

The Washington Post, bought for $250 million in 2013 by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, expanded on Bregman's views and experience in a news report last month about the economist's decision to discuss the uncomfortable topic of taxation after he arrived for the conference in Davos, the small town in the Swiss Alps where the conference is held.

“I had this uncomfortable feeling,” Bregman said in a phone interview with Post reporter Eli Rosenberg. “Could I really talk about my book and basic income but not address the elephant in the room?” Bregman continued, as quoted in the newspaper's report:

The elephant was the issue of taxes, or, more specifically, how wealthy people around the world work to avoid paying them, Bregman said. The issue has shot to international prominence in recent years after disclosures such as the Panama Papers, amid tensions over rising levels of global inequality. And it has galvanized the political conversation in the United States after a congresswoman from Queens — perhaps you can guess which one — floated the idea of returning the United States to a country where incomes above $10 million were taxed at high rates.

But Bregman believed there wasn’t enough discussion about the topic of taxation at Davos.

“I mean 1,500 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about how we’re wrecking the planet," he said. "I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency. But then almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance. And of the rich just not paying their fair share. It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one is allowed to speak about water.

More recently this week, President Trump's proposed annual federal budget calls for nearly $900 million in Medicare cuts over the next decade, thereby breaking his campaign promise to protect that and related "safety nets."

Trump's goal presumably is to help pay for the tax cuts that he and fellow Republicans pushed through in late 2017, which were widely criticized as budget-busters that disproportionately benefited the ultra-rich and provided only modest, short-term benefits for most other U.S. taxpayers and citizens.

Manafort’s Crimes

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, was caught hiding $55 million in income for years from tax authorities, as indicated publicly first by a 12-count federal indictment in October 2017 brought by Mueller’s office in its investigation of Manafort’s consulting work that focused on his help for pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine.

In trouble, Manafort hired Downing as his lead defense attorney. Downing had previously worked until 2012 as a senior litigator in the DOJ section that specialized in tax fraud cases. Targets presumably would have included the biggest fraudsters like Manafort and his allies but they were never charged during Downing's career there.

Manafort’s years of financial crimes had begun in 2005-2006 according to an expanded 32-count indictment that federal authorities brought in February 2018 against Manafort and his longtime junior partner, Rick Gates. Gates had begun his political career as an intern with a predecessor Manafort consultancy in the late 1980s. The firm Black, Manafort and Stone had featured among as its top executives Manafort, GOP consultant Charles Black and Roger Stone. Stone was a former Nixon White House aide who was already a close friend of Trump and who became a legendary GOP fixer and dirty tricks specialist through the decades.

More recently, Gates advanced from being Trump’s deputy national campaign manager in 2016 to winning appointment as deputy chairman of the Donald Trump Inaugural Committee, which raised more than $100 million, by far the largest sum in history for a U.S. inauguration. The Inaugural committee, however, is under investigation by authorities because of suspicions that funds disappeared for an event that was far smaller than for previous presidents in terms of public events while sucking up such huge contributions.

“Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work,” said the federal indictment, which has resulted in admissions of guilt by both Manafort and Gates. In September, Manafort pleaded guilty to just two counts but admitted separately his guilt in all offenses charged by Mueller's team.

“From approximately 2006 through the present," the indictment said, "Manafort and Gates engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities, while enjoying the use of the money.”

Evidence during the Manafort trial in Virginia showed that he had a remarkably brazen scheme to work for free as campaign manager with his partner Gates, and then more than make up any lost salary by selling influence to those who wanted to cash in from Manafort's connections to Trump. Thus Manafort won a $16 million loan with phony documents from a Chicago banker who wanted to be either U.S. Secretary of the Army (the preferred position) or some other cabinet or ambassadorial position, all because of granting Manafort $16 million in an undeserved loan.

Manafort, Gates and to some extent the Manafort attorney, Downing, thus exemplify of the pervasive rotation of officials between government and the relevant private sector. But that is just part of our story.

We’ll show below how Downing and U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta played key roles in criminally prosecuting (and thereby protecting their own careers) former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld, a major whistleblower against the secret Swiss banking, tax fraud and money laundering operations typified by UBS and other large Swiss banks.

alexander acosta o cropped CustomAcosta, left, was U.S. attorney for Miami and Birkenfeld’s chief prosecutor when the banker tried to alert U.S. authorities in the 2005-2006 time period to massive tax cheating by UBS clients, including some who were extremely well-connected to U.S. political leaders.

More broadly, we’ll reveal in Part II of this two-part series how another high-profile court proceeding last week also showed how Acosta’s “revolving door” issues has led him to a central role in the ongoing scandal involving the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, to whom Acosta granted a sweetheart plea deal in 2006 in a sex trafficking plot targeting underage girls.

Most remarkable in that Epstein plea deal was that Acosta agreed not to prosecute or even name Epstein’s accomplices and friends, including Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew of the British Royal Family.

Acosta made that agreement with elite defense virgina roberts dogattorneys even though local police and others had documented allegations that Epstein and his accomplices were sexually involved with scores of teenage girls, some as young as 12 or 13, with many recruited from Palm Beach-area junior high schools and high schools for ostensibly innocent work giving him back rubs at his mansion, 

Virginia Roberts Giuffre, shown at right, filed a lawsuit claiming that she was a former towel girl at the Mar-a-Lago resort, located a mile from Epstein’s sexual lair, when Epstein and his accomplices inveigled her at age 16 to become a sex slave serving him and his prominent friends, including a member of Britain's royal family.

Last week, her attorneys argued in New York City’s federal appeals court for release of sealed documents that she and others claim would document how she and others were treated. A majority of the judges have ordered release of most of the records, reputed to include more than a thousand documents.

The Manafort Sentencing In Virginia

During Manafort's sentencing in Virginia, the presiding judge Ellis (shown in a file photo at left) voiced bromides about how the massive evidence of tax and bank fraud that had unfolded during trial illustrated that such crimes hurt the public.

The harm, obviously, is that if the wealthy do not pay taxes thomas s ellis iii federal judgethen others must either pay higher rates or else vital services must drop.

But Ellis lived up to his reputation as a law-and-order "conservative" who provides lenient sentences to white-collar defendants who steal millions but cover their tracks by hiring the best lawyers and pleading for sympathy.

In Manafort's case, the defendant and his attorneys repeatedly suggested in court and to the public that Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman in 2016, was being prosecuted for political reasons by the Republican Mueller.

Why? The argument by Trump and his defenders is that Mueller and his team want to target via a "witch hunt" President Trump and his aides -- and that Manafort, in particular, deserves sympathy for a variety of reasons, such as his concern for his family and his recent health problems, which were incurred during his pre-trial confinement in Alexandria.

The judge, Ellis, repeatedly noted his sympathy with some of those Manafort claims, both during early stages of the trial and during the three-hour sentencing hearing.

paul manafort mugRemarkably, though, the judge did not press Manafort (shown in a mugshot) for an apology for his conduct or describe for the media and activist citizens in the courthouse such other relevant factors as the colossal threat that Manafort's conduct, revealed both in Virginia and elsewhere, posed to the functioning of a democracy.

Ellis made the stunning statement, for example, that Manafort had lived a "blameless" life aside from his proven crimes.

By contrast, judges often criticize defendants and give extra prison time for abuse of public trust, as Ellis himself did in ordering a 13-year sentence for former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.

Jefferson was an African-American Democrat from New Orleans convicted of financial corruption in an amount far less than Manafort's in terms of either dollars or threats to the American political system. Further, the judge made no reference to Manafort's long career helping corrupt and ruthless dictators, including several accused of mass murders or torture.

After the hearing, Downing gave a brief statement to the media outside the courthouse in which he asserted that Manafort's assertion was vindicated because, in a remarkable parallel to Trump's repeated defense, no "collusion" had been proved.

Suffice for now to say each of those arguments is dubious at best. The judge had forbidden significant evidence of collusion, which was more heavily a focus in the District of Columbia proceeding aborted by a plea deal. Russia-oriented evidence is presumably visible also in the still-pending report and investigation of Mueller.

paula duncanOne Manafort juror, Paula Duncan (shown at right in a screen shot from a Fox News interview), has stepped forward also to identify herself as a strong Trump supporter who nevertheless found the evidence against Manafort overwhelming as she voted for conviction on all 18 felony counts against Trump's former campaign manager, who was convicted on eight of the counts.

She said the verdict was 11-1 for conviction on the remaining 10 counts in Virginia, with the only holdout a fellow Trump supporter resistant to conviction.

Ellis also is a Republican, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to preside in the Eastern District of Virginia, based in Alexandria.

Reporter Digs Deep

Investigative reporter Wayne Madsen has published a more speculative and sinister -- but still plausible -- explanation. It goes beyond the judge's political party status for the Ellis sentence and the judge's apparent sympathy for Manafort and Trump-style arguments.

Madsen, a syndicated columnist and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, published last week on the "Wayne Madsen Report" subscription service, Judge T. S. Ellis is a veteran Iran-Contra scandal cover-up jurist.

Madsen (left), is the author of 16 books, including two about CIA operations. One is a 400-page encyclopedia of CIA fronts, partners, proprietaries whose cover is shown at right. He wrote of Ellis last week in an opinion column:

wayne madsen cia front cover Small "Ellis was placed on the Alexandria, Virginia bench to influence what was expected to be a number of trials involving Iran-Contra figures indicted for their involvement in the guns-for-narcotics-for-cash scandal that almost brought down the Reagan administration."

Madsen continued:

The federal court in Alexandria traditionally handles cases involving the Central Intelligence Agency and is known as a "rocket docket" for quickly shotgunning such cases, many of them embarrassing and politically-sensitive, through the legal system, with as little as possible publicity.

Ellis, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, was nominated by Reagan on July 1, 1987. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 5, 1987.... During the 1980s and concurrent with the Iran-Contra affair, Manafort's company, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly (BMSK), was involved in propping up dictators in countries where the CIA was also active.

For example, Manafort's company provided public relations and congressional lobbying assistance, under mobutu sese seko 1983contract, to Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko (shown atleft in a 1983 file photo) and Jonas Savimbi, the guerrilla leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Mobutu and UNITA were also clients of the CIA. Manafort also lobbied on behalf of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, another beneficiary of assistance from the CIA....

Manafort's clients also included Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), which, along with the Saudis, was providing financial and military assistance to the Afghan mujaheddin guerrillas fighting the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. Once again, Manafort found himself in lockstep with the CIA. Manafort even masqueraded as a CNN reporter while interviewing Indian government officials about the Pakistani-Indian dispute over Kashmir.

Ellis can be summed up as follows: "born in Colombia and raised by the CIA."

fletcher prouty portraitFor those new to such research on covert operations, it is helpful to note that Madsen's analysis draws from a long body of work on allegedly similar situations.

For example, the late Air Force Col. Fletcher Prouty, right, published in 1973 The Secret Team based on his experiences as the top liaison officer in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations between the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Department of Defense and the CIA for the purposes of covert operations (such as propaganda, infiltration of organizations, regime change, election-rigging, and assassinations).

Prouty argued that the CIA, on behalf of what he called a "high cabal" of private sector family dynaties and powerful corporations, frequently installed members of what he called a "secret team" to work in influential government and private sector posts who could be called upon when needed to implement a specific action in the name of "national security" without disclosure to the public..   

On The Other Hand: A Defense Of The Defense

It's fair at this juncture to provide the perspective of the targets of this column, even though it is for the most part an opinion column based on this editor's reporting, including first-hand coverage of Manafort's trial and sentencing in Virginia last week.

Regarding the "revolving door," that is a widespread practice that is far more pervasive than Manafort's defense team, of course. Jackson, the sentencing judge Wednesday, for example, also spent years as a criminal defense attorney between her service as a federal prosecutor and her appointment to the federal bench. 

Many commentators would persuasively argue also that service in the private sector provides invaluable expertise that is useful and arguably necessary for public service, and that taxpayers could not afford to hire cable professionals -- especially with tax avoidance strategies so widespread as now -- if government workers could not have the option of moving to the private sector, which is typically better paid.

Regarding more specifics of the Manafort case, the full history and motivations of a federal judge are typically cloaked in mystery, especially one who was approved for a lifetime appointment by a unanimous voice vote in 1987 like Ellis with no controversy (or digging).

roy cohnAs for Downing, he answered several relevant questions when I approached him privately after the Manafort sentencing. His willingness to answer contrasts with his stern and clipped public demeanor, whereby he typically avoids any comment or provides only the briefest of statements.

I'll save the details for below but preface them with the opinion that reporters too have many biases and pitfalls, with one being a certain sympathy for news sources who grant us access with an exclusive interview or even a brief comment in a competitive news-gathering situation.

carmine galanteThus I retain a warm remembrance even for the late and notorious New York superlawyer Roy Cohn, left, a mentor, attorney and close friend of Donald Trump among others.

That's because Cohn gave me an exclusive comment on deadline once when I was writing a newspaper story about his client Carmine "The Cigar" Galante, right, the murderous underboss of the Bonanno Family before Galante's mob-style shooting in 1979 by rivals within New York's five Mafia families.

Massive Tax Cheating and Sex Trafficking

One vital remaining piece of background for this overview, briefly referenced above, involves another major case involving Downing and a separate case also supervised by Acosta, the former Bush Administration U.S. attorney for Miami whom Trump nominated in 2017 to become the current U.S. Secretary of Labor.   

In 2016, we recounted the story of a noted in a column Courageous Memoir Denounces Banks, Justice Dept. Corruption. It began:

Famed bank whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld launched his tell-all memoir Lucifer’s Banker last week at the National Press Club with a harsh Bradley Birkenfeldindictment of the nearby headquarters of the U.S. Justice Department.

Birkenfeld, described earlier this year by CNBC as "the most significant financial whistleblower of all time," attacked law enforcers as being cowardly, self-seeking and deceitful in monitoring white collar crime. The schemes help the wealthy hide money, sometimes ill-gotten, and thus may hurt the criminals' spouses, business colleagues, fellow citizens, and governments.

Birkenfeld (shown in a graphic illustrating his memoir) states that he stepped forward voluntarily to alert federal authorities to massive money laundering and tax fraud by wealthy U.S. customers via UBS but that officials were too frightened of the banks and their elite criminal customers to mount meaningful criminal prosecutions.

Instead, Birkenfeld alleges, Justice Department prosecutors turned on him and obtained a three-year prison term even though he was the one bringing forth the evidence. There's much more he has to say but for current purposes the major villains in his book are Downing, then a senior litigator at the Justice Department's Tax Division, and Acosta.

Regarding Downing, Birkenfeld's memoir Lucifer's Banker described in detail the enormous hostility he faced when tried to provide Downing and his team evidence that UBS was helping 19,000 Americans keep money in secret accounts designed to facilitate tax cheating, money laundering and similar crimes.

According to Birkenfeld's account:

rudy giuliani wHe described as an example one of his own clients, Abdul Azziz Abbas -- "a shady character with direct ties to Saddam Hussein" -- as possessing $420 million hidden in six UBS accounts. The would be whistleblower also described Abbass as having a close friendship with GOP 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, (shown at right in an official photo from his years at the Justice Department). 

Birkenfeld alleges that his mention of such wealthy and powerful figures to Downing as exemplifying the scope of criminality  among the 19,000 American UBS clients made the prosecutors frightened regarding their careers. This was particularly true, in Birkenfeld's view, because Downing's team had been rebuked by a federal court for over-reaching in a separate prosecution against the accountants KPMG in accusing KPMG of creating fraudulent tax shelters causing a $2.5 billion loss to the IRS.

His book imagines Downing's thought process upon hearing a plan to take out the criminality within the American customers particularly of UBS, one of the world's biggest banks in terms of assets:

"So, basically, instead of being thrilled with this turncoat guy you're scared shitless. He's going to say things you don't want to hear. Best thing to do is to scare him away, and if you can't do that, charge him with something and put him away for as long as possible -- until everybody forgets about him. By the time he sees daylight again, you'll be retired from government service and raking in case as a privateer. The perpetrual 'revolving door' at DOJ." 

eric holderBirkenfeld is bipartisan in his criticism, and frequently casts aspersions also on former President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder (right), for their close and (in the whistleblower's view) compromising ties with top-ranking UBS executives who supported Obama's campaign and patronized Holder's longtime law firm, Covington and Burling.

Birkenfeld, a native of Massachusetts, says he learned only after his prosecution that a new federal law enabled him via his attorneys at the National Whistleblower Center to apply for rewards in recognition of information that he gave the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Those tips resulted in more than $15 billion in recoveries of taxes and penalties from tax cheats. That was the largest IRS recovery in history for the U.S. government via whistleblowing. Birkenfeld received more than $100 million in reward payments, pre-tax.

He claims credit also for a major role for his disclosures helping reform Switzerland's secret banking system. The result? Governments worldwide, he says, are better able to collect appropriate taxes and monitor the criminal behavior (often drug and arms smuggling and theft from corporations and government) that allowed white collar criminals to hide their havoc. 

Acosta's office led the trial prosecution of Birkenfeld. But Acosta is much in the news also this month for criticism of his sweetheart plea deal les wexner mansion jeffrey epstein wmr graphic mariaallowing the multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein to receive a lenient sentence for his sex crimes.

We'll explore that story in a separate column. For current purposes, however, it fits the pattern of a revolving door, particularly because Acosta's plea deal exempted Trump, among others, from investigation.

Madsen and the Justice Integrity Project have jointly reported on a withdrawn 2016 lawsuit that alleges that Trump and Epstein raped two girls, aged 12 and13, in the Wexner Mansion, a New York City condo owned by Epstein's friend, the billionaire retailer Les Wexner.

One of our joint columns, which contains links to several others, was published last year here and on the WMR site: Trump’s multiple sex scandals endanger U.S. national security, Andrew Kreig and Wayne Madsen, Jan. 24, 2018. 

Trump went on to reward Acosta in 2017 -- and help keep him silent -- with the Labor Department cabinet position.

The Labor Department, conveniently for Trump, is the main federal agency monitoring sex trafficking. Currently, a major sex trafficking scandal is percolating in the Palm Beach-Jupiter wealthy environs of Mar-a-Lago because of the recent arrests of sex traffickers.

djt li yang cindyAmong the notable figures is Li "Cindy" Yang, the founder and former owner of a chain of implicated massage parlors. She is shown in a photo signed by Trump and shown on her Facebook site.

Yang has been revealed to be running a new business to generate close contacts for her customers with Trump, his family and other prominent Republican officials.

Acosta, Yang and the implications of their actions will be the topic of a future column here soon.

Downing Responds

After Manafort's sentencing in Virginia, I found his attorney Downing relaxing at a nearby restaurant with several colleagues. It's not necessarily nice etiquette to approach an attorney in such circumstances, particularly after the attorney has repeatedly and sternly declined comment just moments before to large numbers of reporters massed outside a courthouse. 

But dignity is not necessarily a virtue in such situations.

Whatever the case on that, I asked Downing, who stands about 6-foot five, why his team at the Justice Department had not caught Manafort more than a dozen years ago.

"That's a good question," responded, before amplifying, "We did catch about 13,000 others."

Regarding Birkenfeld's complaints, Downing said, "His three-year sentence reflected leniency because of his cooperation."

It wasn't the time or place for an extended discussion. But this reporter remains grateful for the opportunity to present these important viewpoints.

What's Fair For Manafort?

Looking ahead, a broad debate has arisen has occurred over whether Ellis was being too lenient with Manafort. Here are two examples from the Washington Post:

  • Is Paul Manafort’s sentence too light? He fared worse than many fraudsters, data shows, Justin Jouvenal, Julie Tate and Rachel Weiner, March 9, 2019 (print ed.). U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III surprised many when he departed from federal sentencing guidelines in Manafort’s case. But the average prison sentence in similar bank-fraud cases was about 31 months.
  • Manafort gets far less prison time than sentencing guidelines call for, Rachel Weiner, Lynh Bui, Justin Jouvenal and Devlin Barrett, March 8, 2019 (print ed.). Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a far lesser sentence than the roughly 20 years he had faced under federal sentencing guidelines.

Much more information on those matters is scheduled for the hearing on March 13, as the Post also reported:

Next judge to sentence Manafort has already been thrust onto national stage, Spencer S. Hsu​, March 9, 2019. The next federal judge to sentence former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has already been thrust onto the national stage during the year-long run of special counsel cases.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, set to decide Wednesday whether she will add prison time for Manafort, is the same judge who was recently in the spotlight for the Roger Stone case (being prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team).

She comes primed for her role by three decades as an attorney and judge dissecting sensitive political corruption and white-collar criminal cases in the nation’s capital.

Stage Is Set March 13 For Manafort, Mueller, Downing and Berman

Manafort's sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC. This reporter plans to be there, as in the past.


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