I can think of no one better than Andy McCarthy to evaluate the indictment of Paul Manafort. In McCarthy’s view, the indictment “is much ado about nothing . . . except as a vehicle to squeeze Manafort, which is special counsel Robert Mueller’s objective.”
That sounds right.
This case has nothing to do with what Democrats and the media call “the attack on our democracy” (i.e., the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 election, supposedly in “collusion” with the Trump campaign). Essentially, Manafort and his associate, Richard W. Gates, are charged with (a) conspiring to conceal from the U.S. government about $75 million they made as unregistered foreign agents for Ukraine, years before the 2016 election (mainly, from 2006 through 2014), and (b) a money-laundering conspiracy.
The Manafort indictment contains two main counts, and ten others. The grandiose sounding “Conspiracy against the United States,” Count One, mainly involves Manafort’s and Gates’s alleged failure to file Treasury Department forms required by the Bank Secrecy Act.
The other main count, a money-laundering conspiracy, alleges that Manafort and Gates moved money in and out of the United States with the intent to promote “specified unlawful activity.” That activity is said to have been their acting as unregistered foreign agents.
On first viewing, McCarthy finds these counts as “shaky and overcharged,” “at least in part.” Since the charges themselves aren’t earth-shaking (did we really need a special counsel to bring them)?, I won’t summarize Andy’s reasoning.
From President Trump’s perspective, the indictment is a boon from which he can claim that the special counsel has no actionable collusion case. It appears to reaffirm former FBI director James Comey’s multiple assurances that Trump is not a suspect. And, to the extent it looks like an attempt to play prosecutorial hardball with Manafort, the president can continue to portray himself as the victim of a witch hunt.
It’s true that Team Trump can continue to make these claims. I think it’s also true, as a lawyer told the Washington Post, that “while the White House could say that these indictments don’t advance the collusion narrative, they don’t negate it either.”
To me, the key point is that the Manafort indictment puts Mueller is a good position to squeeze Manafort for information that might advance the collusion narrative and might even support a case against President Trump.