Is Manafort’s trial the preamble to Trump’s impeachment?
The trial against former Donald Trump campaign director Paul Manafort has begun and with it, the first outcome of the FBI investigation into an alleged collusion between the 2016 presidential campaign and Russian officials.
Let's make something clear: the investigations carried out by the special counsel Robert Mueller on a presumed collusion between Moscow and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, have not yet reached the president.
But it is close enough, and the results can radically change the course of the current administration.
For several months already, Mueller's quest has focused on determining the veracity of Russian interference in elections, the links between Trump associates and Russian officials, the presumed collusion between the presidential campaign and Moscow, obstruction of justice by the president, and the finances around all the characters involved.
The result has been 35 criminal charges, including five associates very close to Trump.
One of them was former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has been charged with twelve counts of conspiracy, money laundering, false financial evidence, obstruction of justice, and forgery of tax returns.
Manafort turned himself into justice on October 30, 2017, without pleading guilty to any of the charges. His trial began on Tuesday, a procedure that is expected to last about three weeks.
According to The Independent, Manafort "is the first of Trump's former assistants to go to trial and could face a minimum sentence of 30 years" if found guilty.
While Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August 2016 after his illegal transactions with the Ukrainian government became public, his closeness to the electoral process transformed him into a subject of Mueller’s investigation that found a chaotic Pandora's box in his finances.
Since his beginnings in political lobbying during the 1980s, Manafort made his fortune by supporting leaders such as Savimbi in Angola, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, advising regimes that openly violated human rights.
It was his intervention in the presidential campaign of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine that brought him closer to the Russian economic elite, with whom he worked for the acquisition of telecommunications companies and hotel reconstructions in New York.
As the Associated Press reported, Manafort has since negotiated contracts of up to $10 million a year to "promote Russian interests in politics, business, and media coverage in Europe and the United States."
Understanding how this links to the alleged accusations against President Trump for collusion is a matter of simple mathematics.
For columnist Frank Bruni, the Manafort trial "has plenty to do with the president and plenty of potential to hurt him."
"That's not just because Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is tightening the screws on Manafort with the hope – apparently futile so far - of extracting unrelated evidence against Trump," Bruni explained in his column for the New York Times. "It's because Manafort is such a gilded, sordid reminder of the company that Trump keeps and of how he sees and navigates the world. They are like-spirited plutocrats. Fellow plunderers."
Despite the presidential tirades that scream "witch hunt" every two seconds, and his "demand" to the Attorney General to put an end to the investigation, the start of the trial against Manafort is an irrefutable sign that Mueller will work until the end.
Former Attorney General Alex Little explained to CBC that a conviction against the director of Trump's presidential campaign "would be damning, even if it didn’t lead to any new investigative breaks for Mueller."
The legitimacy that the process wins before public opinion is, therefore, a key issue.
If Manafort is exonerated, the president may feel more willing to seek the end of the investigation.
If, on the other hand, Mueller gets enough evidence to condemn the former campaign manager, the "witch-hunt" argument could fall very short.