News Podcast: What's Next For Manafort And Cohen?

News podcast about the Paul Manafort verdict and Michael Cohen guilty plea, FaceFirst facial recognition software, and the new BuzzFeed News Opinion podcast, What's Left.

In this week's episode:

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The Lede - 00:00

Julia Furlan: To say that this week sucked for President Trump is kind of putting it lightly. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes, including hiding millions of dollars in foreign banks, and using money from Ukraine to fund some questionable high-end fashion items.

The verdict is part of the Mueller investigation into whether or not Trump’s campaign collaborated with the Russian government during the election.

That same day, the president's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations. He told the court that he paid hush money to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign with the quote "principal purpose of influencing the election."

As two of Trump’s top confidants face jail time, you’re going to hear from people who understand what’s going on. Supreme Court correspondent Chris Geidner, legal reporter Zoe Tillman, and politics reporter Molly Hensley Clancy

Chris Geidner: So. It was a slightly busy week this week. We had some major

developments in two of the biggest shows running when it comes to what's going on in Donald Trump's legal life with Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Zoe you were inside Manafort trial. Can you describe to us what that was like.

Zoe Tillman: It was really the hottest ticket in Alexandria Virginia for about three weeks. It was a crush of reporters, members of the public, the judge, Judge T.S. Ellis III, did not believe in reserve seating in the courtroom for anyone. Which meant that if you wanted a seat inside the courtroom with a view of what was going on you had to line up pretty early. So there were still long lines snaking around the courthouse. You also couldn't bring in a phone, you couldn't bring in a computer. No electronics.

CG: So what happened on Tuesday? The jury had been out for several days.You guys would go down to the courthouse and take a book and nothing happened for several days. And then what happened Tuesday afternoon?

ZT: Tuesday afternoon we got to know we say we got a note from the morning from the jury hinting that they were having some trouble reaching a consensus on some of the counts. And that in the afternoon the judge sent them back out and said "keep trying."

In the afternoon we got a note from the jury read by the judge saying that the jury had been unable to reach a consensus on 10 counts and they had tried and that was the best they could do. And while that was starting to unfold we had gotten word from reporters who happened to have gone outside the courtroom and outside the courthouse that the Michael Cohen plea deal was coming in a half hour. So that news was spreading inside the courthouse where no one had access to the Internet. As we were then getting ready to hear the verdict and preparing to then sprint back out of the courthouse to tell the world, which was now focused on Michael Cohen, that there was a verdict in Paul Manafort's case where he was found guilty on eight felony counts. And the jury hung on the ten remaining counts.

CG: And all of us out here, had no access to what was going on in the courtroom. We were watching what was going on in New York with Michael Cohen and we were waiting to find out which reporter would run out of the courtroom and tell us what had happened with Paul Manafort. And as it turned out both men pleaded guilty or were found guilty of eight counts. And so it was a double eight count day.

ZT: Magic Number.

CG: Molly we have you with us here. And all of a sudden you saw all of this talk about how this, this is the beginning of impeachment on Twitter. Has that ever been a serious rallying cry for the people actually running for office as Democrats?

Molly Hensley Clancy: No definitely not. Not at all. And it's still not. Like thepresident was implicated in, you know, criminal conspiracy and no one is talking about impeachment at all. And they're being very deliberate about that. And they're not going to start talking impeachment for quite a while I think.CG: Why is it that Democrats don't want to talk about this when polling showsthat a strong majority of Democrats support it.

MC: Well that's just the thing. The strong majority of Democrats support it but when we're talking about independent voters and maybe even voters who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but are having regrets, those are the kind of voters that Democrats want to get. They're the people that they need to get when we're talking about all these House districts across the country. They're in red districts that Trump won. And those people are not super psyched about the idea of impeachment. They may like, you know, have their skepticism about the president but they're not like onboard yet with the idea that he should be removed from office. So Democrats are being careful because they want to win swing voters. They don't want to just appease their base. They think that's how they're going to get control of the House back.

CG: What about Tom Steyer? He doesn't seem to care about that.

MC: Yeah Tom Steyer doesn't care about anyone besides Tom Steyer, I think. So Tom Steyer is Democrats biggest donor. He is a huge force in the party but like he's also a really big thorn in their side. And Tom Steyer is all about impeachment. He runs a group called Need To Impeach. And what's interesting is what Tom Steyer's group told me is up until this Cohen stuff happened, they had been planning on doing a big midterm initiative that just focused on turning out voters. They were going to just kind of say like "show up" you know "vote," make the house, turn the house blue. And then this Cohen stuff happened and Steyer's group was like "we're also going to do a bunch of impeachment stuff." So they're gonna start buying ads calling for people to you know contact your representatives and tell them to impeach Trump. And Democrats are probably not, they're not happy about that. They don't, they were happy probably about, you know, Steyer doing this turnout stuff but they don't want to talk impeachment.

CG: So what, what would need to change for that conversation to change forDemocrats to actually want to talk about impeachment?

MC: So what they say is wait for the Mueller investigation to conclude, let's you know out the facts. Whatever would it probably is realistically going to take is the majority of the country, not just the majority of Democrats thinking that Trump should be impeached. They're not, you know, this is entirely political for them. They're not going to make a move to impeach the president if they think it's going to lose them the election in 2020 or certainly not in 2018. So it's political. And then there's the whole thing about you know if they don't have control of the Senate then they're not going to, you know, try to impeach the president unless they think Republicans are also onboard.

CG: What do Republicans think about this impeachment talk?MC: Well that's the funny thing about this this whole thing is that Republicansare actually the ones who you'll find mentioning it more because they think it's great for Democrats talk about impeachment. What they think is, the more Democrats talk about impeachment the more it riles up their base, it riles up Trump voters and it gives them a reason to turn out for the 2018 elections which is like a real worry for Republicans that their voters are not going to be enthusiastic. They're not going to show up to vote. And they think the Democrats can kind of create this enthusiasm for them by putting this threat on the president. And Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this is the only issue that Democrats have in the midterm elections. Which is funny because they're not talking about it but Republicans want them to.

CG: OK. So Democrats are responsible for both Democratic turnout and Republican turnout this fall. Got it. Zoe one of the first pieces you wrote covering the trial was, despite the fact that everybody thinks that the Manafort trial and all of the things that Robert Muller is doing is as special counsel, are about Trump. That Trump was also sort of a nonfactor in the beginning of the trial. Did that hold up? What, what was the sort of feeling at the trial of how this related to the president?

ZT: I think that the president and Robert Muller really loomed over the trial. Everyone who was there to watch it all the lawyers, the judge, Paul Manafort, of course we're thinking about Robert Mueller and Donald Trump the whole time. But the actual trial, people really bent over backwards to not bring the president and Robert Muller into the courtroom. So initially, Manafort lawyers didn't even say he had run Trump's campaign. He said he had just worked for a presidential campaign recently. And eventually that that wasn't feasible. They had to bring him in and talk about the fact that Manafort had worked on the campaign. But for the most part it really wasn't about the campaign. It was about these allegations that Paul Manafort hadn't reported income on his taxes, hadn't reported foreign bank accounts and so on. So in a sense it was all about Trump and Robert Muller and it really wasn't about them at all.

CG: So what's next. I mean, he's got a bunch going on. What happens to him now?

ZT: [00:08:25] There's really no time to dwell on this first trial because in about three weeks we have trial number two. Where Manafort is facing, sorta related charges to his former political consulting work in Ukraine. But this time it's less about the financial. Well less about the financial crimes, he still charged with money laundering, but we're also going to get into this question of whether he was doing lobbying for Ukraine in the United States and whether he failed to register as an agent for that work. He's also charged now, new, in new set of charges with maybe trying to interfere with witnesses after he had been charged and after his case was pending. Prosecutors have brought in a new player to his case Konstantin Kilimnik who was his former longtime Ukrainian Russian associate. So we're going to get into, you know, what happened after he was charged and Manafort try to interfere with folks. It's notable also that Kilimnik is one of the few connections within this whole Paul Manafort case between sorta Russia and the campaign. There are claims that have been raised by prosecutors that Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence. He was in touch with Paul Manafort the deputy Rick Gates during the campaign. Whether that, more about that will come out in this trial we don't know. So there's very little time to think about and reflect on trial number one because all these same players are going to be back in court a few weeks from now to pick a jury.

CG: But so we've seen a lot from the White House in in recent days and it hassort of been a bit of the way that one would look if they were seeing dominoes falling. Sarah Sanders at the press briefing refused to answer questions substantively.

Clip: Did President Trump as the president said. We've said it many times. He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. And we've commented on this extensively.

CG: We also have a president Trump. He is tweeting regularly still. Telling us allabout his latest thoughts on the witch hunt. And he also did this Fox News interview where he talked about saying that what Cohen did isn't a crime. And that Manafort wasn't convicted of most of the counts against him. Trump also had this view about flipping and we'll, we'll listen to that.

Clip: I know all about flipping for 30, 40 years I've been watching flippers. Everything's wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is. Or as high as.

CG: Zoe what, what is the president talking about?

ZT: It's not really clear. Campaign finance law is campaign finance law. And when you violate it, it is a crime. Just as when you violate any law that's currently on the books. The crimes that Cohen pleaded guilty to it was pretty straightforward in the charging papers. There are limits on how much money you can give to a campaign. And prosecutors say and Cohen admitted to giving more money towards the campaign than you were allowed to. And the law says that there can't be coordination between a corporate entity, in this case American media and the campaign, in this case the Trump campaign. And what Cohen said is "that's what I did. I coordinated between a corporate entity and a campaign." So it's not really clear what the president is getting at.

CG: OK. There's one other thing that we've got looming over us in addition to Trump and Mueller. We've also got a Supreme Court vacancy. After what happened this week the refrain from liberals and from a lot of Democratic senators even has been that this nomination cannot go forward because of the Cohen plea specifically. I guess, first question Molly politically is that a real argument?

MC: It's not really a real argument but it's kind of the only one they have. So itmakes sense that they're making it. You know, they don't have a lot of control in the Senate. They don't have a majority. You saw them starting out by making these arguments about documents. That's kind of boring it's hard to get people excited about releasing documents. The other thing they're making an argument about was Roe v. Wade. You know, they're trying to use Roe v. Wade to get a couple of Republicans to vote against Kavanaugh. And that's starting to look like that might not be working either. Because we've seen one of those Senators, Susan Collins say, she's really indicated that she's not super concerned about Kavanaugh's stance on Roe. So what that means is, kind of all they have left is this argument that the vote shouldn't be held because of what happened with Cohen.

CG: I mean the Manafort trial does't start until we get into September. What is it that you're going to be focused on?

ZT: A couple things. We'll find out next week if prosecutors want to go back and retry Paul Manafort on the ten counts where the jury hung in the Virginia case. So we'll find out if they want to go through all of that again. You know, there is this speculation now that perhaps the president is considering pardoning Paul Manafort at some point. There were some reports that he had broached it with his advisers. So he seems to be really on Team Manafort and we'll see how that plays out. And then when we come back after Labor Day weekend all the lawyers are going to be getting ready for this next trial. Barring something happening.

CG: So watch the tweets and get ready for the next Manafort trial.

ZT: Yes.

Robot Took My Job - 16:50

Venessa Wong: So Leticia you have a face. I have a face. And now I'm worried my face is a liability. So this is based on some reporting you've done about some disturbing new technology that's showing up in places we shop. And I was wonder if you could tell us what's going on.

Leticia Miranda: So face first is a facial recognition software company. So retailers are exploring facial recognition software as part of their security systems, they're camera security systems. And I spoke with one of the leading or the leading company providing the software to retailers and it's kind of, a little eerie how the technology works.

VW: So what do they do?

LM: Yes. So the way that it works is the software will capture a bunch of images that are taken of any shop or coming into a store. The software chooses the image of a person that's the most clear and analyzes that image against a database of known shoplifters to the retailer. And if there's a match, the software will alert security and security kind of takes it from there.

VW: So I walk into a store. My face is being captured run through some software and then if they identify me as someone with a record they preemptively alert security.

LM: Yes.

VW: Do I have any say in this matter. Like do I at some point provide my consent to this store or whatever that it's okay for them to do this.

LM: No. There is no required consent except in Illinois or they have a law that requires any company that is collecting biometric data, which faces and thumb prints all of that is considered biometric data. They require anybody who collects that data to get written consent. But anywhere else you can walk into a store and have no idea that your information is being collected. Some retailers do post up a guess warnings to shoppers as they walk in to let them know that this information is being collected. But that's all voluntary.

VW: Like a little sign probably as you're like walking in through the mall or something like that you'll probably never notice.

LM: Yes. So Target ran a test of this technology. They wouldn't tell us when but when they ran their tests they said they had signs outside of their store telling shoppers that they're using this facial recognition software and they still have a disclaimer on their policy page letting shoppers know that at any time they may be collecting biometric data including facial recognition data.

VW: So if a shopper were to visit Target's highly trafficked policy page online before they actually went shopping they would have full disclosure that this might be going on.

LM: Yes. If you happen to go to that page and look through the entire terms then you will see that yes they may be collecting.

VW: I mean I do this on the reg before I go buy shampoo so.

LM: Yeah, I know. It's pretty difficult to find them. And again yeah that's that's all voluntary. You know retailers could be using it. They don't have to tell you.

VW: It almost sounds like something straight out of Minority Report. Now what happens if the shop owner thinks you stole something or pose a threat to their business. At what point did they call the cops.

LM: So if you're caught or apprehended shoplifting some retailers will offer you to, they'll offered to not press charges if you agreed to keep your data in this database and agreed to never returning to the store. So it gets at that point if you do not want your data kept by the retailer then, you know, at least for retailers to have this agreement then the cops would be called. There are some people that have certain alerts attached to their information like a 9-1-1 alert. So people that the retailer has determined are sort of violent threats. And at that point security is told by the software to call 9-1-1 immediately.

VW: And you'll have to have committed any actual crime in order for them to do this right. This is all sort of preemptive predictive technology. So as long as the shop owner or manager of the store thinks that you may be a problem they can take whatever action they feel is appropriate.

LM: So like the database is built using information of previous shoplifters. People who had a problem with the retailer in the past. So I guess traditionally are sort of like low tech kind of retailers have like a pin board or something with like images of shoplifters that you know security is supposed to be looking out for as they come into the store. So what face first provides is sort of a smarter solution I guess to that.

VW: So the racial profiling business this is totally a huge elephant in the room and I was wondering if you looked into this or did any reporting about that.

LM: I have not done reporting into this part yet. When it comes to retailers using facial recognition software. And it's definitely something that has an issue that's been raised with other facial recognition software like Amazon's Rekognition. You know Google and Facebook using facial recognition and kind of misidentifying people of color as animal. Or like kind of conflating people and not really showing that their software is accurate and kind of draws conclusions that are racially biased. And when it comes to this software it's difficult again because these companies are private. There's no obligation to disclose the accuracy of it. There's no obligation to disclose how exactly the technology works. What exactly it's looking for. How it learns over time. You know, I think that when retailers pick up this technology to combat theft, I think it's important that they ask and we ask about these, these technologies and these softwares and what sort of biases are kind of embedded in them.

VW: Right which is why I think the transparency bit is also very important here because people won't be asking those questions if they don't know that their images are being captured when they walk into stores.

LM: So a lot of privacy advocates are proponents of opt-in environments which means that you would need to get written consent to have your biometric data added to any type of database. So sort of following the Illinois model. And a lot of industry stakeholders want an opt out environment where you're automatically enrolled in this database. And you, consumers can individually approach the company and say you know 'I don't want my information in this database anymore.' So when it comes to that particular question of consent that in the past is where a lot of these conversations kind of fall apart.

VW: It's really interesting because like obviously surveillance security are not new to retail at all but this new AI takes it to a whole other level. And I was wondering like how do you think predictive theft prevention changes the game for shoppers especially those who might have a record. I mean it feels to me like, at the point where your face sets off an alert to security, there's really no such thing as a second chance.

LM: Yeah I mean and I think that it raises a lot of important questions about how, how we profile people. And you know it's difficult because the face versus a private company and there really is very little regulation of how the data is collected, the accuracy of the data. You know, what it's relationship to law enforcement is because it's really a black box in terms of how accurate it is and who it determines is a threat. So yeah and I think privacy advocates have raised these issues to agencies government agencies and concerns around racial profiling or the accuracy of this type of software and what the consequences can be for people who are just coming into a Wal-Mart or you know like wanting to pick up a few things.

VW: This makes me want to walk around with the mask. Thanks so much Leticia.

LM: Thank you.

Introducing What's Left - 25:30

Julia Furlan: Hi Sarah Leonard.

Sarah Leonard: Hey.

JF: Listeners. We brought Sarah in here to talk about what's left which is, A first of all extremely clever name and second of all a really lovely show about what is happening right now on the left. Right?

SL: Absolutely. Politics has changed a lot in the last decade. This is the anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis right.

JF: Wow.

SL: I know.

JF: Mission Accomplished.

SL: Seems like yesterday everything was so screwed and now everything's great. And politics really doesn't just look like Democrat verses Republican anymore. We've seen all these social movements. We've seen Occupy, the Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie Sanders campaign.

JF: Yeah.

SL: Sheer chaos and all these ideas that were kind of marginal like socialism are now basically central our politics.

JF: Right.

SL: So we really want to get in and start unpacking that talk to the people who are smartest on these different issues. And that's the mission.

JF: Your first episode you looked at socialism and you spoke with some socialist allied Democrats who are challenging the centrists in primaries. What about this moment makes socialism such a rallying cry? Like you just hear it everywhere.

Clip: You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States? You've heard the phrase a lot lately democratic socialist it's suddenly very common on the left. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent. Democrats are moving left, don't panic. If you're a socialist tell me that.

SL: I think socialism is an idea that appeals to a lot of my peers. I'm a millennial and you know we came of age at the financial crisis. So I think a lot of people are taking their negative feelings like 'capitalism sucks,' 'I'm screwed,' 'I have a lot of student debt' and turning it into 'well I think I'm a socialist and what do socialist believe,' 'I don't really know, I mean join DSA, Democratic Socialists of America.' And I think that's where a lot of people are at in terms of redefining their politics. It's like the economic moment plus the demographic moment where people are increasingly not white and people are increasingly not wealthy. I feel like people are finally sort of getting hip to that.

SL: Totally. It's really notable that we were looking at all of these candidates who are challenging mainstream Democrats from the left and they are disproportionately women of color. And these are women who have been organizing in their own communities for a while. And they're now seeing this as their moment to come forward and actually be elected to higher office and start representing notable. That is just like a front and center thing about all these candidates. You know Rashida Tlaib, who we talked with will be one of the first Muslim women in Congress. You know, one of the first two both in this election, Ilhan Omar's the other, and she'll be the first Palestinian American woman in Congress.

Clip:But you know half of my colleagues on congressional floor millionaires are people that have really been too far away from what is actually happening on the ground. I don't care what polling is saying I don't care what the different kinds of political strategies that everybody talks about. It always results in the complete opposite. Primarily because the disconnect and not been able to really focus on the needs of the people and actually listening to them.

SL: She's taken a lot of heat she's had to fight a lot of Islamophobia.

JF: I mean of course.

SL: Crazy attacks from the right because she's so deeply embedded in her community. You know, she's been a state representative. She really knows folks. She's lived there a long time. She is able to push back against that because people know her and I think that's what's notable about candidates like Rashida. They are seriously embedded in their communities and that's what gives them their power.

JF: Right. It's not like a performed authenticity it's an actual connection to the communities and an ability to sort of like move within those spaces.

SL: Yeah and not like a millionaire who is like dipping their toe in the neighborhood every election season.

JF: What else can listeners expect from what's left the series? What other topics are you excited about exploring?

SL: I really feel like we are able to put people together who you don't normally see together. So we have an upcoming episode on identity politics where we're bringing in Barbara Smith who is one of the members of the Combahee River Collective. They invented the term identity politics back in the day. We're going to ask her what did you mean when you entered this term? How has it changed? How is it being used now? Is that even what you meant? And on the same episode we're going to have Francis Fukuyama who is a famous conservative known for declaring the end of history in an article and now writing about identity politics and he's going to talk about it from his conservative perspective. He has a critique of it. And I guarantee you Barbara Smith and Francis Fukuyama have never been on a podcast at the same time. I think that's going to be a fun conversation.

JF: I also feel like it's the moment to shine light on these sort of like nooks and crannies and to get into the details so that we can be fully informed when it comes to the midterm elections.

SL: Yeah and politics is changing. It's very confusing. One function of ideas that were once marginal now being so central is that people don't have easy sort of like good sources to go to to unpack these ideas. Because if you turn on cable news someone's just yelling at you that the Democratic Socialists are gonna take your iPhone or whatever. It's just not helpful. And so we want to take those ideas and actually get the smartest people who think about them to come in and break them down talk about them and be sort of a bridge from 'wow current politics really sucks' to like 'let's dig into these alternate ideas.'.

JF: Well I for one will be listening because I need it and I really welcome you to the microphone literal and figurative.

SL: Thank you. I'm figuring it out. I need all the help I can get. Thank you for welcoming me on.

JF: Welcome. Sarah Leonard thank you so much for being here. Everyone listen to What's Left. Be smarter. It drops on Mondays and you can subscribe wherever you podcasts.


This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That’s Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, Ahmed Ali Akbar, and Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

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