Poor judgment is the apex of accusations against then-candidate Trump due to recent disclosures in the Mueller investigation. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, a business associate of Manafort’s, were both indicted for tax fraud this past week.
Trump reacted to the indictment on Twitter saying, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the . . . campaign.” He isn’t lying. Long story short, Manafort and Gates used foreign shell companies to transmit and launder millions of dollars they earned in the Ukraine between the years 2006 and 2015.
The indictment itself states that Manafort “used hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” The Washington Post reported that wealth was hidden “by a network of foreign corporate entities and accounts.” Along with this charge, the New York Times adds that Manafort and Gates also “[violated] . . . foreign lobbying laws.”
But is this related to the Trump campaign? In short, as the president tweeted, it isn’t—yet. Per an article published by The Week Magazine, it seems that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is on a “long leash” and is stumbling upon findings loosely related to the original purpose of the investigation: to determine if there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
In addition, The Week summed it up by saying, “If you ask enough people enough questions about enough topics, sooner or later you’re going to catch somebody in a lie.” That is exactly what Mueller did.
The mainstream media is framing these indictments to look significantly worse than they are, for Trump and the accused. The indictment reads that Manafort and Gates “conspired” against the United States, and of course the media ran with it, bellowing “collusion, collusion” from the hilltops.
Meanwhile, the charge of “conspiracy” is simply the legal wording used to describe an action or actions that “defraud the United States” or any agency of the United States, such as the IRS. So, Manafort and Gates skipping out on paying their taxes does fall under a “conspiracy against the United States” charge, yet it isn’t nearly as treasonous as it sounds.
Let’s dive into more of the specifics. The indictment states that Manafort and Gates “acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine.” The profits from this work were “funneled” through the aforementioned pathways to avoid disclosing them to the IRS.
Manafort then used some of this money to buy property in America. These properties were subsequently used as collateral on million dollar loans. Mueller estimates that “more than [$75 million] flowed through the offshore accounts” and that Manafort himself “laundered more than [$18 million].”
However, according to Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, this “hair-raising $75 million in income” is an “inflated charge.” Due to a federal statute of limitation, the monetary offenses laid out in the indictment that Manafort and Gates committed before 012 are null and void, which makes “that $75 million figure [drop] dramatically.”
McCarthy, a former prosecutor, also explained that Mueller turned one offense into two. The charge against Manafort and Gates for failing to register as foreign agents is considered a “false statement” categorized as “a misdemeanor calling for zero to six months’ imprisonment.” Mueller, however, also charged Manafort and Gates with another “false statement” offense for lying to government officials. McCarthy simplified it by saying, “One cannot make a false statement on the foreign-agent registration form without also making a false statement to the government.” Plainly, Mueller may have “violated double jeopardy principles” for attempting to prosecute Manafort and Gates for the same crime twice.
Moving on, we can see why exactly this indictment is making people scream “collusion.” Manafort and Gates operated Davis Manafort Partners (DMP) and DMP International (DMI) wherein they offered political consulting services to Ukraine’s pro-Russia party, The Party of Regions. According to Mueller’s prosecution The Party of Regions’ candidate for president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, was successfully elected in 2010. Although, four years later Yanukovych “fled Ukraine for Russia” due to accusations of corruption.
This may seem like a blow to the Trump administration, but realistically, as the New York Times laid out, it is perceived more as “a shot across the bow of Washington lobbyists.”
To clarify, yes, these conclusions were drawn due to an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia, however, such indictments are more damaging to other international political campaigners than they are to the central targets of Mueller’s inquiry.
One of the foremost conclusions from this indictment is the accusation against what it calls “Company A and Company B.” Company A is identified as Mercury Public Affairs and Company B has been confirmed as the Podesta Group. These businesses were retained by Manafort’s consulting firm to lobby within the United States for The Party of Regions. Specifically, the Podesta Group, according to The Hill, “earned more than $1.2 million . . . from 2012 through 2014” to lobby for Manafort’s client.
The Podesta Group is described by The Hill as a “left-leaning” firm whose head, Tony Podesta, is defined by the New York Times as “a prominent lobbyist and Democratic donor.” It is also notable to add that Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman.
You may remember John as the man who addressed Clinton supporters the night of the 2016 election asking them to leave the Clinton HQ as President Trump’s victory grew more evident.
Ultimately, these indictments may just support Trump’s assertion that Mueller is reaching dead ends in an attempt to unearth collusion. It is more than evident that Manafort and Gates committed crimes for which, if prosecuted, they should serve time for. However, as mentioned at the start of this article and as of this current moment, President Trump and his campaign team are merely guilty of making a bad call by hiring Manfort for those six months in the spring/summer of 2016.
All in all, Mueller could very well be using the same approach prosecutors did to take down Al Capone or as Scott Greenfield, a New York defense attorney, said, it could just be a “huge yawn.”
Salvatore Pinero is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at SP0828988@wcupa.edu.