THE MANAFORT INDICTMENT AND INVESTIGATING WHERE THE LIGHT IS

440px-Director_Robert_S._Mueller-_III-1donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedBelow is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the Manafort indictment.  Details continue to unfold in the Mueller investigation, particularly after the plea agreement with George Papadopoulos, 30.  While Papadopoulos is clearly cooperating and could spell bad news for the the White House, the Manafort indictment was conspicuously removed from the Trump campaign.  Mueller appears to have bagged a former high-ranking Trump campaign official, but the center of gravity of the criminal complaint remains far afield from the White House.

Here is the column:

 

There is an old story about a man who comes upon another man in the dark on his knees looking for his wedding ring under a street lamp. Sympathetic, the man joined the stranger on his knees and looked for almost an hour until he asked if the man was sure that he dropped it here. “Oh no,” the stranger admitted, “I lost it across the street, but the light is better here.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller clearly followed the same logic in looking for crimes where the light is better in his charging of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former deputy, Richard Gates. In the 12 count indictment, Manafort and Gates received the first major charges to come out of the special counsel investigation into possible Russian collusion during the campaign. The problem is that the center of gravity of the indictment is well removed from the campaign, which is not even mentioned in the charging documents.

There was one development that did tangentially involve the campaign: George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI when asked about Russian contacts during the campaign. Moreover, a foreign professor is referenced as someone not only with close ties to Russia but an interest in Papadopoulos due to his role in the Trump campaign.

In other words, Mueller found an obvious interest of Russians to influence Trump’s inner circle. However, this remains a charge based on Papadopoulos’s false statements and not an underlying crime of conduct by the campaign or its presidential candidate. There is still a conspicuous omission of alleged facts or evidence in the charging documents to indicate obstruction or collusion crimes that remain the focus of the controversy.

While removed from the campaign, the charges against Manafort and Gates are extremely serious, and the supporting evidence is damning. There are an array of foreign accounts and transactions that prosecutors allege were an effort to evade tax and reporting requirements. The “conspiracy against the United States” count references these transactions, but not any conspiracy involving the election.

The 12 counts involve crimes that are difficult to defend against in a federal trial. Most involve the failure to file proper forms or reveal required information. They include the violation of the Foreign Advisers Registration Act (FARA), violations rarely charged criminally. Jurors often treat such charges as easily established by prosecutors. The focus of defense counsel will remain with the big ticket charges of tax fraud, money laundering and conspiracy against the United States.

The difference between the tax fraud and FARA violations is the difference of being chased by rottweilers or  chihuahuas. You tend to focus on the rottweilers. However, FARA charges are likely a concern for others like Michael Flynn and Tony Podesta. Mueller is signaling that he is prepared to charge anyone on anything done at anytime within the scope of his mandate. For those threatened with charges like FARA, that threat just became all too real. The White House can take solace in its narrative of the charges against Manafort and Gates. However, there remain obvious risks.

First, the White House is continuing to struggle with message control, including new and ill-advised tweets by the president himself. Then there was the incredibly dimwitted statement issued by an unnamed “source close to the White House” that “the bad behavior of Manafort and Gates has little to do with the Trump campaign or Russia investigation. These guys were bad guys when they started. They were bad guys when they left. The indictment has nothing to do with any relationship to Russia.”

 

Obviously, between the start of these bad guys and the leaving of these bad guys was their selection by the president for key roles in his campaign. If these were bad guys “when they started,” there remains the long-standing question of why Trump would ever want them to be his “bad guys.” Moreover, the underlying facts do involve activities that overlap with the campaign period, though the underlying crimes are well removed from campaign functions.

Finally, the subject of Papadopolous’s alleged lies were connections to Russians during the campaign. The number of campaign-related people with Russian ties and, more importantly, interests in Russia is worrisome. If Manafort and Gates were guilty of these crimes, they were not just vulnerable to discovery but to disclosure. To the extent that Russians or foreign nationals knew of illicit conduct, there could have been leverage over their conduct and advice in the campaign. Ultimately, Mueller could move this influencing “light” a bit closer to his long-sought “ring.”

In the end, this first salvo falls considerably short of the White House grounds. There is no indication that Trump had the slightest inkling of these connections or influences. There was clearly an astounding failure of the campaign to properly vet Manafort, who was well known in Washington as someone with fairly shady relationships and clients.

However, there remains a difference between omission and commission in such criminal allegations. The question is whether any of these targets have anything that would shine a bright light on the White House. Thus far, there is more heat than light in both the coverage and the charges when it comes to either obstruction or collusion.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

38 thoughts on “THE MANAFORT INDICTMENT AND INVESTIGATING WHERE THE LIGHT IS

  1. To the folks out there that think reality is irrelevant when it comes to Trump or the republican party, man oh man are you going to have one hell of a hangover when reality comes and the Kool-Aid wears off.

  2. I still have not seen a real Russia connection. Some guy lied to the FBI and a couple of others were dealing with a guy from the Ukraine. Big deal. Some ad info is out now and we are seeing .05 to .74% of political ads. Big deal. If that actually worked a campaign would not cost a billion to pull off. The news cycle of late has been pretty low IQ.

    • Organized Crime? It should be clear to you by now that anyone connected in politics is part of the largest organized crime syndicate in the world. The Kabuki Theater that is projected to the masses accomplishes one goal: Divide them, distract them and never, ever allow them to know what is really going on behind the curtain. None of these investigations will amount to much as long as we have a majority of the population that remains committed to either major political party.

    • Interesting that The Hill article is based on what Trump supposedly said in a phone call to Steve Bannon.
      Is The Hill’s source for the information about that call Bannon? Trump? Do either have the old, cheaper “party lines” phone plan v. private line phones?People listening in if the call was on
      speakerphone? Did someone intercept and monitor the call?

  3. “The number of campaign-related people with Russian ties and, more importantly, interests in Russia is worrisome”

    Not to most people. Many Americans want the US and Russia to cooperate on addressing fossil fuel and methane gas damage, wealth gaps, nuclear Armageddon, things that affect life on Earth.

    Informed people are more concerned about political ties to Israel, interests in Israel, and Israeli interference in the US political system.

    • Crispy Bacon, would you also like us to lose our concern over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014? How about those US sanctions that Obama put in place against Russia shortly thereafter? Should we lose interest in those sanctions as well? Would you prefer US sanctions against Israel, Crispy? Has Trump built a tower in Israel yet?

      • Please explain how Russia’s annexation of Crimea is our business or concern. IIRC the Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia vs Ukraine.

      • You post about this annexation like a child that just learned to walk. Look, I have legs! While you’re looking down at your legs you run into the coffee table. Are you purposely trying to deflect attention away from the utter lawlessness that exists within our own political class?

        • Yes, Olly. That’s exactly what I’m up to. I knew I couldn’t fool you. But do you really have to unmask my intentions to everyone else? It could’ve worked on some of them, you know.

        • Nick Spinelli – I read Brazille’s excerpt from her book today and found no surprises. There had been talk during the election that Hillary was using the DNC as a personal slush fund and donor money was not going where it was supposed to. I don’t know why Brazille was suddenly surprised. Maybe she is trying to play innocent. “Look it wasn’t me, it was Hillary and DWS”. Blame shifting.

  4. No time to read this yet, JT – but thank god you wrote something. No matter what you wrote, your ‘never Trumpers’ here have been foaming at the mouth and screaming at their keyboards waiting to tell you how wrong you are on this subject …………

  5. If collusion isn’t a crime as we’ve all been told by the media pundits, and the ranking member (Senator Burr) of the committee overseeing the Senate investigation into the crimeless allegation of “collusion”, along with Russian interference into the election says, that after all their investigation, “NOT ONE VOTE WAS CHANGED” and there is “NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION WITH THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN”, why is Rosenstein still allowing this farce to continue? We all know when it comes to Hillary that hard drives, witnesses and evidence tend to disappear right before our eyes, or at least before the first witness is called. So it’s not really a stretch to think that Mueller and his team might be doing a little “colluding” themselves to “tie up some loose ends.” Let’s hope that doesn’t include the informant Sen Grassley has called to testify.”

  6. It is odd the charges came just when Mueller’s name started to surface as a player in Uranium One. I think Mueller took his best shot to take the heat off him and deflect to these three. Mueller is not off the hook yet. Let the dust settle for a couple of days and then Mueller’s role will resurface.

    • Please post more materials on this “Uranium One” worldwide conspiracy to sap our “precious bodily fluids.”

      this is to “what about hillary” paulie

      • Marky Mark Mark – do your own research. It is out there, just look for it. The internet is your friend. Stop being clueless and ignorant. There is so much stuff you can spend the next several days going through it. BTW, don’t buy the latest DNC talking points on it, all that is just cover-up.

  7. There’s no reason to believe there won’t be more charges and that they won’t be related to Russia. This is the equivalent of a pitcher throwing a high hard fastball brushing back the batter. In this case, if there’s anyone in the White House not yet lawyered up. They better get one before all the good ones are gone.

    • And there is no reason to beleive their will.
      In fact the only thing we know from the manafort & gates indictment is that Mueller has some leverage on Manafort and Gates.

      But the indictment does not tell us anything about Trump russia collusion.

      Manafort or Gates could be leveraged into revealing collusion.
      But that could occur regardless of whether there was or was not collusion.

      More likely we will get more unrelated indictments as Mueller tries to make headway.

      But it is highly unlikely Mueller will ever get anything substanitive.

      Trump did not get dirt on Clinton from Russia – how do we know ? Because if he had he would have used it. Further Clinton has thoroughly inoculated Trump on that charge. No one is going to impeach Trump over something Clinton did more egregiously.

      Trump could not have aided the DNC hack because:
      The timing does not work.
      that would be stupid – Russia needs no help, nor would Trump if he chose to hire someone himself.
      You do not collude to do what you do not need to collude to do.
      The DNC hack was not a hack it was a leak.
      While the DNC was hacked – it was not by Russia and that is not where the wikileaks emails came from.

      Trump colluding with Russia over social media adds makes zero sense.
      What Trump needs Russia to place 100K of social media adds – of which 6500 are specifically for Trump, and many were not until after the election ?
      Why would Trump collude with Russia to put things on social media ? Trump does not need Russia for that. He can do it himself – more effectively or hire others to do it more effectively.

      So unless you beleive Trump is so stupid that he is going to work with Russia to do something that he does not need russia for you are on a snipe hunt.

      We have some evidence that Trump wanted two things from Russia – and both of those make sense.
      Dirt on Clinton – which he never got, even though Clinton got copious fake dirt on Trump.
      Face time with Putin – which Trump never got.

      • So much to respond to:
        1. Trump felt he needed help because all the polls said so.
        2. He did use the material as his speeches coordinated immediately with the leaked material.
        3. The material released by Mueller to support claiming Manafort and Gates were flight risks were substantial flight risks discussed their ties to Russia in particular
        4.Papadopoulos’s guilty plea does tell us about campaign collusion (including his related e-mails with superiors.
        5. I do believe Trump is that stupid which he reinforces with every tweet.

      • dhlii said, “But the indictment does not tell us anything about Trump russia collusion.”

        It should be understood by now that dhlii considers collusion to be just another word for business. Collusion is not a crime; because there’s no law against doing business with the Russians.

        Huh? What about the US sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimea in 2014?

        Well, but don’t you see, Trump’s a businessman. The business of businessmen is collusion. Because collusion is just another word for business. What else was Trump supposed to do? Comply with US sanctions against Russia? That’s just not what businessmen do.

        Besides, compliance with US sanctions against Russia is well beyond the scope of Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections. If Mueller stumbles across Trump campaign officials violating US sanctions by doing business with Russians, then it has nothing whatsoever to do with Russian interference in the 2016 elections. And, therefore, Mueller simply must ignore it, or else be fired for having exceeded the scope of his investigation.

        After all, there’s absolutely nothing in The Constitution of the United States of America that authorizes Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to enforce US sanctions against Russia. The rule of law must be restored to its rightful place as an instrument of collusion between businessmen. Otherwise all of the English dictionaries in the world will have to be re-written so as properly to distinguish collusion from business.

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