It was before dawn when 12 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents used a "no knock" order to force the door, guns drawn, to invade the quiet home in Alexandria Virginia, patting down the target’s wife for a weapon before she was allowed to leave her bed.
What was the dangerous criminal charge justifying such tactics? A Washington Post headline read, "Lavish lifestyle’ highlighted in indictment."
The target was Paul Manafort, of course, who rated this treatment because he was Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, indicted for the terrible crime of lobbying, which took place well before Trump’s campaign, although it would take a close reading to ascertain this pertinent fact.
The official indictment listed: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading reporting statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
But the Post understood. To incite public enmity, the lavish lifestyle was the real news: "a $1.5 million brownstone in a trendy New York neighborhood and a $1.9 million home in Arlington, Virginia . . . three Range Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz, landscaping at his Hamptons getaway, and pricey improvements at his house in Palm Beach, Florida." $934,350 on antique rugs, and $1.3 million in clothing the FBI photographed during the raid to prove guilt of being rich.
Treasury investigators placed "red flags" on Manafort’s banking records as early as 2004, sending them to the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the Department of Justice in 2013 and 2014. The indictment cited suspicious transactions made in "round-dollar amounts" to "money laundering" nations, from work for Ukrainian and other foreign entities, and failing to register as foreign agents between 2006 and 2016.
No action was taken against Manafort until he joined Trump’s campaign years later. Leftist obsession about Russia influencing the U.S. election is the MacGuffin (the scheme) behind the indictment by the modern Inspector Javert — the fictional antagonist in Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" — hinting at conspiracy because Manafort had an office in Moscow.
The case itself is hollow. Special Counsel Robert Mueller must prove Manafort knew the money came from illegal activity and transferred it with the specific intent to avoid registering as a foreign agent (merely a misdemeanor); and knew such work required registration. As in similar political indictments, the "conspiracy against the United States" catchall is used to embellish the other charges. Ask poor Martha Stewart about that abuse of law, which real justices like Learned Hand long ago warned against as the favorite tool of abusive prosecutors.
Prosecutorial intimidation included denying Manafort bail as a flight risk, supported by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, a former U.S. prosecutor appointed by Barack Obama.
The George Papadopoulos indictment for lying to the FBI is similar. He had a minor role in the campaign and no one paid attention to him, even if he got someone on tape trying to humor him.
The most important fact explaining the federal indictments is that Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman’s brother Tony Podesta resigned from his Democratic Podesta Group lobby, which like Manafort’s supported Ukraine’s Russia-supported former president.
The unnamed lobby in the indictment is presumed to be the Podesta Group and former Republican Congressman Vin Weber apparently is next. Brother John Podesta founded and worked for the Group earlier and is now with the public lobbying group, The Center for American Progress. The legal charges against Manafort have not been enforced for years but now all Washington is keeping a low profile fearing all lobbying has become a crime.
Extortion is a real crime, legally a “threat to a victim's property or loved ones, intimidation.” Blackmail is a nasty type of extortion in which the threat is “to expose embarrassing and damaging information to family, friends, or the public.” The Mueller indictment is simple prosecutorial blackmail to force Manafort to implicate Trump in some kind of conspiracy with Russia against Clinton. If a few Democrats get caught in the web, well, too bad.
Yes, I have known Manafort for years personally but not closely or financially or in lobbying and we have more often been on opposing political sides, such as Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford and over Ukraine elections.
The public simply echo the media. Nearly seventy percent in a Washington Post/ABC News Poll presumed the charges against Manafort were true and a majority of 53 percent believed it demonstrated wrongdoing by President Trump himself.
The current indictments obviously have nothing to do with Trump since the events took place well before he ran for president. The legal case is simple. FBI and Justice prosecutors were either wrong not to have charged Manafort a dozen years ago under Mueller or wrong now to use indictment as political blackmail.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should admit he made a mistake and fire Mueller without even consulting the president.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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