The charges filed against President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, "apparently has nothing to do with Trump," but will be used as leverage toward the president and his campaign, Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz said Monday, as Manafort "knows where the bodies are buried."
"It's all about leverage," Dershowitz told Fox News' "Fox and Friends" program. "They're going after Manafort on something that apparently has nothing to do with Trump, years ago, his own business."
"The one thing is the Trump people did move quick to get rid of Manafort once his European ties came up," Fox News' Brian Kilmeade pointed out, recalling Manafort's firing during the campaign.
"That will help Trump distance himself," said Dershowitz. "But Manafort knows where the bodies are buried. He was an intimate, and if anything wrong happened in the campaign, and there's no evidence anything did, Manafort would know about it, even if he wasn't directly there, he would have heard about it."
But, said Dershowitz, federal officials will use those charges to push for information about Trump and whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
"What they're saying to him is 'we gotcha now, and we don't care about that,'" Dershowitz said. "'But if you can tell us something about Trump and the campaign and collusion, we'll give you a get out of jail card free.' So, it's all about leverage. That's the way prosecutors work."
According to the 12-count indictment, which was handed down last Friday, against Manafort, 68, and Gates, 45, charges include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, performing as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) statements, false statements and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
While the investigation detailed incidents that occurred before the 2016 campaign period, the indictment says the men's "scheme" was to defraud the government of taxes based on millions of dollars earned overseas. The indictment does not reference Trump, the campaign, or the White House.
It was important to indict Manafort first, said Dershowitz, in order to get leverage over him.
"The first rule in American crime is if you're going to commit a crime, commit it with somebody more important than you are so that you can turn them in, they can't turn you in, and that's what's going to happen," said Dershowitz.
He added that there may be a deal in the works between Manafort and the prosecution, but he does not think Trump will end up pardoning Manafort if he's convicted.
"He could, of course," said Dershowitz. "Politically, that would be difficult...but Manafort now is the first domino. And what Mueller wants to do is see him as the first domino, the second domino, the third domino, ultimately trying to get to the third domino."
If Manafort doesn't have anything on Trump, then he'll "twist in the wind," said Dershowitz.
"If he has nothing to offer, he's just going to have to defend himself on these financial charges that have nothing to do with Trump," said Dershowitz. "This shows the danger."
Trump's attorney, Ty Cobb, said last week the president has no concerns that Manafort or others from the campaign will have damaging information on Trump, but Dershowitz said that may be more "wishful thinking."
"The only people who know that are the president himself and Mr. Manafort, and the president probably has a pretty good idea that he doesn't have anything on him," said Dershowitz.
Even if there is evidence of collusion, "that's not even a crime," said Dershowitz. "Sometimes prosecutors can twist you not only into singing but into composing. Into making something up against somebody.
Meanwhile, Dershowitz said he does not believe Trump, as a sitting president, could face indictment, as that would "probably" have to wait until he's out of office.
"But that's the danger of a special prosecutor," he said. "He has to go after somebody. He can't just spend all the money and do nothing, and so even if he can't find anything related to what he was ultimately appointed for, if he can find little things, that's going to be a victory for him. That's the democracy of criminalization, criminal differences today."
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