Mueller Indicts Manafort and Partner on Dubious Charges, Unrelated to Russian Collusion With Trump Campaign
Both of the main charges against Manafort and Gates might well be groundless.
On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment of two people connected to President Trump. A grand jury indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. The main charges were money laundering and tax evasion. The pair made tens of millions of dollars lobbying for a political party in Ukraine.
The special counsel was tasked to look into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Strangely, it delved into Manafort’s business deals. The indictments aren’t related to the Trump campaign. The 31-page indictment never even mentions Trump. It covers actions prior to the 2016 campaign.
The indictment alleges the pair illegally funneled millions of dollars of payments into offshore bank accounts. It accuses them of doing this in order to avoid notice. Manafort and Gates never registered with the DOJ as foreign agents. The law requires this.
Can We Trust the Prosecutor?
Can we be sure that Manafort and Gates really did commit crimes, just because a special prosecutor said they did? No.
There are so many vague laws today that the average American violates a bunch of them every day. It’s easy for the government to “find” felonies committed by people it doesn’t like.
In his book Three Felonies a Day, Harvey Silverglate explains that prosecutors can “structure plea bargains in ways that make it nearly impossible for normal, rational, self-interest calculating people to risk going to trial. The pressure on innocent defendants to plead guilty and ‘cooperate’ by testifying against others in exchange for a reduced sentence is enormous — so enormous that such cooperating witnesses often fail to tell the truth, saying, instead, what prosecutors want to hear.”
Prosecutors have used vague, general laws to take down prominent Republicans. They include Joe Arpaio, Rick Perry, Tom DeLay, Bob McDonnell and Ted Stevens. The men fought the charges. The legal system ultimately exonerated three of them. Arpaio was pardoned. Each one spent several years and millions of dollars to clear his name.
They surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The pair pled not guilty. The judge put them under house arrest.
A third person caught in the probe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. George Papadopoulos had denied talking to the Russians while advising the campaign. He changed his statement later. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he was a campaign volunteer. She said Monday he did not work “in an official capacity.”
Questions have already been raised about the indictment. Some believe that the indictments are a sham. “The Paul Manafort indictment is much ado about nothing,” writes former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy. He calls it “a vehicle to squeeze Manafort, which is special counsel Robert Mueller’s objective.”
The DOJ rarely prosecutes the offense of failing to register as a foreign agent. That’s not all.
Writing in National Review, McCarthy explains how Mueller appears to have charged Manafort twice for the same crime. This prosecutorial abuse likely violates the constitutional protection against “double jeopardy.” He charged him with making a false statement by failing to register and a general false statement.
McCarthy questioned the money laundering charge. The money must be the result of unlawful activity to be “laundered.” Manafort could legally receive money for work on behalf of the Ukrainian president.
McCarthy concludes that the indictment is “a dubious case of disclosure violations and money movement that would never have been brought had he [Manafort] not drawn attention to himself by temporarily joining the Trump campaign.”
Mueller’s Motives and Overreach
Critics have reason to question Mueller’s motives. He stacked his special counsel with Democratic donors. Key prosecutor Andrew Weissmann not only donated to top Democrats like Barack Obama but has a controversial record. He is famous for the strategy of “flipping lower-level defendants on bigger targets.” He also goes after family members.
This doesn’t always work. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the Enron case.
The legal site LawNewz points out that Mueller’s team may have violated Manafort’s constitutional rights. Agents seized information outside of the scope of the warrant from his home. Attorney-client privilege likely protects some of these documents.
In his attempt to tarnish Trump, Mueller may have to take down one of Hillary Clinton’s friends. Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, resigned from The Podesta Group Monday. The firm also worked for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. This work benefited the same Ukrainian party that Manafort advised. Podesta failed to register as a foreign agent.
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