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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A federal judge confirmed on Wednesday that the Justice Department has ended its investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, indicating that no one else will face charges in the case. But Judge William Pauley also announced that, over the government’s objections, he will be making many of the underlying documents in the case public without requested redactions.

The case stemmed from Cohen’s efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure hush money payments for two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. Since investigators determined these payments were done in order to help secure Trump’s victory, the spending counted as campaign contributions that were never recorded and were, in fact, illegally concealed. The Trump Organization, Cohen has said, helped repay him for the costs of the hush money while disguising the payment falsely as a legal retainer.

Cohen implicated Trump directly in the crime, saying the then-candidate coordinated with him and directed him to make the payments. There is even a public recording of the pair seeming to discuss one of the payments. Donald Trump Jr., too, maybe implicated in the crime because he allegedly signed some of the repayment checks to Cohen.

For these and other crimes to which he pleaded guilty, Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison. But neither Trump nor no one else apparently involved in the scheme appears to be vulnerable to charges in the case.

As a sitting president, of course, Trump could not be charged with a crime under current Justice Department policy regardless of the evidence. Such a policy wouldn’t protect the president’s son or anyone else involved in his company, though.

So the public has been left with many questions about this case. Would the president have been charged with any related crimes were he not in office? Why weren’t charges brought against other people who appear to have been involved? And was Attorney General Bill Barr — who was chosen by Trump to protect him in the special counsel’s investigation and has shown a clear desire to exonerate the president from any wrongdoing — involvemed in the final decisions?

Additionally: Why weren’t any Trump Organization officials questioned by the investigators in the Southern District of New York, if a recent CNN report is correct?

We may yet get some answers to these questions. Judge Pauley issued an order Wednesday noting that the government has confirmed that the investigation is no longer ongoing, but it asked that some of the underlying materials related to Cohen’s case remain sealed “to protect third-party privacy interests.”

Pauley didn’t buy it.

“[The] weighty public ramifications of the conduct described in the campaign finance portions warrant disclosure,” he wrote. “Moreover, the involvement of most of the relevant third-party actors is now public knowledge, undercutting the need for continued secrecy. … On balance, the ‘strong presumption of public access’ to search warrants and search warrant materials under the common law far outweighs the weakened privacy interests at play here.”

He also argued that the matter is “of national importance” and that “it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”

The materials will be unsealed on Thursday morning, he ruled. He allowed that there may be a few limited redactions.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are in a celebratory mood.

“We are pleased that the investigations surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed,” Jay Sekulow, the president’s attorney, said Wednesday according to USA Today. “We have maintained from the outset that the president never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”

He also suggested that he is not aware of any other federal case in which Trump is a subject. However, reports suggest that an investigation of the president’s inaugural committee remain ongoing.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden

If you were a Trump supporter anticipating a ruinous assault on Joe Biden's integrity during that final debate, too bad. What you got instead was a series of incomprehensible outbursts from Donald Trump, who seems to assume that everybody believes whatever nonsense they hear on Fox News, just like he does.

The day after the debate was even more disappointing. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch himself, dropped a front-page investigative report that directly contradicted Trump's accusations about Biden and China. The only candidate with unseemly business over there is Trump himself, whose secret account in a Chinese bank was just exposed.

For months, Trump and his minions have hyped allegations of financial corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump got himself impeached, with the help of legal genius Rudy Giuliani, over his attempt to force Ukraine's president to open a fake corruption probe of the former vice president and Burisma, the energy firm that once employed Biden's son Hunter. Their deception collapsed when Trump and Obama administration officials testified – with ample documentary evidence – that Biden had done nothing to protect Burisma and only carried out United States and European initiatives against corruption in Ukraine.

But that failure didn't discourage Giuliani, former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, or the other fabricators in the Trump entourage. In recent days, they have unveiled a mysterious laptop computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden and reached Giuliani and then the New York Post through a series of implausible events. There are clues that the electronic data on the laptop was invented or altered. Who might do that? Let's see: The Kremlin is seeking to harm Biden politically, and Giuliani has openly welcomed the assistance of Russian intelligence assets, so the answer is fairly obvious. Especially because Russian agents provided similar services for the Republican candidate four years ago.

When the laptop gambit flopped, the Trumpsters still didn't give up.

On the eve of the debate, a Wall Street Journal columnist published a claim that Joe Biden personally profited from investments in China fronted by Hunter. Her column was based on assertions by a shadowy but euphoniously named businessman, a certain Tony Bobulinski. In a move worthy of that old pardoned felon Roger Stone, Bobulinski actually attended the Nashville debate (after staging a "press availability" where he refused to answer any questions.)

Unfortunately for both Bobulinski and that eager Journal columnist, her newspaper on Friday published the investigation that cratered their nefarious tale. After months of actual reporting, the Journal's real journalists found that the venture cited by Bobulinski "never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals." Moreover, corporate records reviewed by the Journal's reporters "show no role for Joe Biden."

So far the Biden "scandal" most closely resembles Whitewater and the entire panoply of Clinton finance scandals that never revealed any wrongdoing whatsoever. Whatever Trump may spew and sputter, there is no plausible evidence that has been subjected to examination by journalists of integrity.

And fortunately for Biden, the nation's traditional news outlets are approaching the allegations against him with a cool and appropriate skepticism. That wasn't the case in 2016, the last time Steve Bannon played the same games. For Bannon and Giuliani, as well as their echoes across right-wing media, the objective was always to launch their false narratives into the mainstream. They succeeded brilliantly in 2016, with the assistance of the New York Times and other news organizations that should have known better and done better. This time they are failing.

In promoting these serial smears, the risk for Donald Trump is always that someone competent will inspect his record. That's what should have happened four years ago, when he and Bannon falsely attacked the Clinton Foundation while concealing the sordid truth about the Trump Foundation, a brazen criminal enterprise.

That 2016 frameup was a classic instance of projection – and we can assume the same dynamic is at work today. So now is the time to scrutinize all of the Trump Organization's crooked, conflicted deals overseas – and how he and his family have profited from his presidency.