Mueller’s fishing expedition continues

The Washington Post reports that FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, late last month. They used a search warrant to seize documents and other materials.

The search occurred soon after Manafort met with investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee. At that meeting, Manafort reportedly answered questions and provided investigators with notes from a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians claiming to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. In addition, according to his spokesman, he has voluntarily been producing whatever documents Mueller’s team has requested.

New York Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Adam Goldman believe the search indicates that the inquiry into possible misconduct by Manafort has broadened. They write:

Until now, it was only known that Mr. Manafort was under investigation for his business dealings with his son-in-law, his role in the 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and the Russians and whether his work for the Ukranian government violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The government rarely prosecutes cases related to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Mr. Manafort’s consulting firm retroactively filed forms with the Justice Department last month to be in compliance with the act.

But the search warrant for the tax and foreign banking records suggests that investigators are looking at criminal charges related to the federal Bank Secrecy Act, which requires Americans to report their foreign banking accounts.

An expanded investigation of Manafort could have implications for President Trump. The more evidence Robert Mueller and his team can accumulate against Manafort, the better their chances of “flipping” him — that is, getting him to testify against Trump in exchange for leniency.

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that Mueller is investigating Manafort for possible violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (if this, in fact, is what’s happening). Such an investigation is meat and drink for ordinary federal prosecutors. There is no need for a special counsel and the matter probably has nothing to do with “collusion” or with Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

As for inducing Manafort to testify against Trump, what basis is there for believing that Trump colluded with Russia? As of the time James Comey was fired, he had none (apparently he was fired because he wouldn’t say publicly what he said privately about this). Since that time, we’ve learned that Team Trump attended a meeting in the hope of obtaining adverse information from Russians about Hillary Clinton, but none was forthcoming. There was nothing illegal about attending the meeting.

Under these circumstances, storming into Manafort’s home for the purpose of getting him to testify against the president of the United States (if that’s what happened) falls somewhere between a fishing expedition and a witch hunt.

In my view, President Trump would be within his rights, and not lacking in justification, to fire Mueller for straying into the matter of Manafort’s foreign bank accounts (if Mueller is doing so) and/or to fire Rod Rosenstein for enabling Mueller to do so. Whether it would be prudent of Trump to fire either man is, of course, another matter.

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