Student Perspective: Trump & Russia 101
An update on the ever-changing Trump/Russia investigation.
January 3, 2019
This, without a doubt, has been one of the most eventful presidential cycles in a long time, starting all the way back in the beginning before the elections even took place, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Since the election and entrance of President Trump into the Oval Office, there has been an excess of turmoil and issues that have arisen. One of the most notable and well-known issues is the allegation that Trump had Russia tamper with the election, to sway it in his favor.
For the past two years, Trump has been under investigation for these allegations, and the longer he is under investigation, the more information and evidence comes up, some of which does not favor the president. The whole issue has led some people to worry about the person who is leading the United States, and if he is really fit for the position. Others simply deny the evidence and say that it is all “fake news.”
“I think it’s hard to make a conclusive decision because I don’t know that much about it, and they tend to keep investigations like this as under wraps as possible,” said Maddie MacDonald, a politically inclined junior at Triton High School. She said that there is definitely something going on behind the scenes with our government and Russia, whether or not the president knew about it prior to the investigation.
The story behind Trump's fixer, Michael Cohen
So far, the Russia investigation has found eight people guilty. Arguably, the most consequential charge was for Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer. Cohen got sentenced to three years in prison on December 12th, 2018. He was charged and found guilty of financial crimes, campaign violations, and lying to Congress, according to the New York Times.
His trial has led the Southern District of New York prosecutors to claim that Donald Trump, also known as Individual-1, had committed a felony, specifically, a campaign finance violation. According to prosecutors, “In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” according to the New York Times article.
The payments refer to two stories that Cohen bought the rights to. Both stories revolve around women claiming that Donald Trump had an affair with them. According to Cohen himself, “Mueller has substantial evidence to back up my story.” He also added that Trump knew that paying off the women was wrong, but that “he [Trump] was very concerned about how this would affect the election.”
In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Cohen stated that, “Here is the truth: People of the United States of America, people of the world, don’t believe what he [Trump] is saying. The man doesn’t tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”
“I think we should be able to trust someone [Cohen] who had experience with it. If they were with Trump, and they were together, then they know what happened,” said Serena Brown, 18, of Seabrook, New Hampshire. Though a Republican, she said we should be able to trust Cohen based on his connection to Trump.
Trump's closest adviser at one time
According to Vox, “Manafort advised the president and his political surrogates to more aggressively and directly attack the FBI and other elements of the federal law enforcement apparatus investigating his administration. The goal… was to “delegitimize” the investigation itself.” Manafort also advised other members of the administration to attack the Justice Department, the FBI, and Obama administration officials for seeking warrants, which would permit eavesdropping on Manafort and campaign aides.
According to Robert Mueller himself, Manafort told “multiple discernable lies” during interviews with prosecutors. Manafort might have had an ulterior motive with the lying, aside from trying to save Trump.
“A person with firsthand knowledge of Manafort’s thinking… believed discrediting the FISA process and, more broadly, the federal criminal investigation of him [Manafort] and other Trump campaign aides would make it more politically feasible for Trump to pardon Manafort,” according to Vox.
Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty on eight felony counts, consisting of five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. Manafort, who goes on trial on March 5th, 2019, had an influence on the president’s actions during his role in the presidency.
The story behind the Russian Operative
She went to NRA conferences and the National Prayer Breakfast and planned meetings where influential people, primarily Americans, could meet with Russians.
Butina’s superior has been identified as Alexander Torshin, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.
The plan, written by Butina herself, titled the “Diplomacy Project,” was to infiltrate conservative circles, meet with influential Republicans, and meddle with the 2016 election.
In 2015, shortly after Trump had announced his run for presidency, Maria Butina asked Trump a question at the FreedomFest conference, which can be seen in the embedded video below.
According to NBC News, “The felony carries a five-year prison term, but the estimated sentencing guideline range is from zero to six months in prison.”
“I think foreign agents should be jailed for however much the court decides. After their jail time the agent should be deported and not allowed access back into the United States,” said Alex Michals, a Triton senior.
He also said the president needs to be harder on Russia. “Time and time again the Russians interfere not just with our elections, but our allies’ elections. Sadly, we have a president who isn’t harsh enough on Russia,” he added.
The last important piece of this puzzle is Michael Flynn. While being Trump’s National Security Advisor, he lied to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. Flynn has started cooperating with Mueller and his investigation.
According to Politico, in one of Mueller’s memo’s, Flynn has given Mueller “substantial assistance” in the Russia probe. The memo was heavily redacted, which can be expected in cases involving national security.
“I think the biggest red flag for me [indicating] that this scandal could go all the way up, to even Trump himself, is the fact that the court documents and memoirs released for people, such as Michael Flynn and Michel Cohen, are so heavily redacted,” commented Lily Fullford, a Triton senior.
She said that the only solution, assuming Russia interfered, would be to impeach Trump and return to our normal relationship with Russia. “I think that the only way to handle this situation without declaring war is to impeach the president… The United States could do as it always does with Russia, have a tense relationship.”
Triton’s Take and Closing Thoughts
This whole event has left the political climate in a state of chaos, and has brought up the question of how will this leave the political scene once it has finally been put to rest.
Mr. Timothy Coyle, Triton’s current Political Science teacher, said “I’m not sure, but I hope people would not excuse it in light of the fact that Vladimir Putin has routinely stated that one of Russia’s primary foreign policy goals is to disrupt and destroy western democracy,” when asked about the current political climate. He said that people should not just let this simply pass by due to Russia’s policy on our type of government.
Only time will tell what happens with the investigation. It seems as though Mueller is on a path to a big breakthrough. The investigation itself has cost 25 million dollars, according to the Justice Department. So far, Manafort’s forfeited assets are estimated to be worth from 42 to 46 million dollars, according to ThinkProgress. The investigation has turned a profit, nearly doubling the initial 25 million dollars, and it’s not close to being done just yet.
The outcome of this investigation could very heavily influence the political scene in the near future; more so than it already has. This could be the first time the United States sees a president put in jail, or the first time a president pardons himself. Or he could be proven innocent of all charges. No matter the outcome, it will surely be a prominent topic in the news world.