Welcome back to Trump Watch. It’s been a jam-packed news week in D.C., and we still need to get through this Friday. Manafort could be in jail by the end of the day, and there are even more questions hanging over another one of Trump’s old top dogs: Michael Cohen. All this as the DOJ reels from its epic loss after trying to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger. As always, thanks for reading, and please send tips and suggestions to email@example.com, or follow me on Twitter @elliskkim.
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Manafort Faces Mueller (Again)
Remember what Paul Manafort’s life used to be like? Multiple Range Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz, homes scattered between the Hamptons and Virginia, and at least a million dollars spent on men’s clothing.
Now, the former Trump campaign chairman faces the possibility of going to jail. He’s expected to appear at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington, D.C., before Judge Amy Berman Jackson at 10 a.m. today. She will consider whether Manafort should have his bail revoked or revised after the special counsel accused him of attempted witness tampering.
It’s not all that common to revoke bail for a white collar criminal.
But as one former federal prosecutor put it, this is Manafort’s “second bite at the apple.” The first, when he was caught helping put together an op-ed for a Ukrainian newspaper. He got off with a warning. This time, he’s accused of trying to secure false testimony.
➤ Robert Bennett of Schertler & Onorato pushed back on the idea that it’s rare for judges to revoke bail in white collar cases. Particularly here, where the judge has already shown leniency, and she might be in the mood to make an example at the courthouse. “That wouldn’t surprise me, but I could be wrong,” he said.
I’ll be at the hearing watching what the judge has to say.
In case you haven’t been keeping count: We’re three superseding indictments in for Manafort. Money laundering, unregistered foreign lobbying, bank fraud, conspiracy, and now obstruction charges are all on the table for him.
Help Wanted for Michael Cohen:
Trump’s former lawyer-slash-fixer has split with his McDermott Will & Emery lawyers: Washington-based Stephen Ryan and New York-based Todd Harrison. Cohen is reportedly looking for a new legal team, particularly someone with ties to SDNY prosecutors.
➤ Generally, there are three reasons someone would break up with their lawyers: 1)They can’t afford the ones they have, 2) They don’t like the ones they have and there are personality differences or disagreements over strategy, or 3) There’s some sort of ethical conflict.
Reasons 1 and 3 suggest the breakup might have been initiated by the lawyers. Reason 2 usually means it was the client.
Speculation has exploded, and news reporting has been all over the map. Could it be over legal fees? Could Cohen be gearing up to cooperate with prosecutors, and that’s why he’s shifting lawyers—just as Rick Gates did? Or is he sending a “smoke signal” to Trump?
➤ Slate captures the speculation well: “Michael Cohen Is About to Flip on Trump or Is Bluffing or Is Maybe Doing Something Else, Various Reports Say”
➤ Reading this will tell you why it’s worth paying attention to this guy: “What Could Michael Cohen Tell Mueller about Russia Collusion?” from Ryan Goodman at Just Security.
Trump’s DOJ Loses Big with AT&T
Either way, it was a tough loss for DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, who emerged from the courtroom looking quite dejected. “It does not change our views that structural remedies is the best way to protect American consumers,” he said afterward.
While Trump was not directly involved in this, the president has publicly opposed the deal. He’s also a fierce critic of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.
➤ The deal between AT&T and Time Warner closed Thursday after DOJ decided against seeking a stay of Tuesday’s ruling. But no word from DOJ on whether it will appeal the ruling.
Quick takeaways from the day…
Just to give a sense of how wild the day was: Judge Leon was expected to read his ruling at 4 p.m., and yet reporters began lining up in the courtroom hallway in the morning. They received numbers indicating their place in line, and ultimately only about 30 reporters were let in. No overflow room for press either. (A certain news network dispatched a few interns to stand in place all day; on-air reporters and analysts would later take their place, of course.)
On the ruling itself. Business boardrooms and dealmakers seemed buoyed, but for antitrust lawyers and experts? More like… not totally surprised:
➤ “I think clients in general can breathe a sigh of relief that there’s not going to be major sea change in the approach to vertical transactions,” Freshfields’ Eric Mahr, previously a director of litigation with the DOJ’s antitrust division, said. He added it “confirms what has been the antitrust consensus over the years,” the idea that “vertical mergers are on the whole more likely to create efficiencies than they are to pose anticompetitive harm.”
➤ The judge also used at least 19 exclamation points in his 172-page opinion. Here’s a fun piece on his punctuational proclivity—from the National Law Journal staff and me!
And More That Happened This Week:
➤ A huge story from yesterday: “New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit on Thursday against President Donald Trump and his children over misuse of their family’s charitable organization, the Trump Foundation,” from the New York Law Journal.
➤ Another big story: The New York Court of Appeals denied Trump’s request for a stay in the defamation lawsuit that was brought by former “The Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, again from the New York Law Journal.
➤ Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the DOJ’s recent policy of prosecuting all people who cross the U.S. border illegally, a move that has resulted in the separation of families. A reminder that a federal judge allowed an ACLU lawsuit aimed at stopping those separations to move forward last week.
➤ James Wolfe, the Senate intelligence staffer who was charged with making false statements to the FBI, pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have said he leaked committee information to reporters.
➤ The DOJ Inspector General report on the FBI and DOJ’s handling of the Clinton email investigation came out Thursday. It sits at a neat 500 pages.