I can’t really be happy about today’s indictment against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. While I’m glad the system is working, it’s really a rather sad day for our nation.
Let me also say this. Manafort and Gates have only been indicted. That doesn’t mean they’re guilty. I’m a criminal defense guy, and I believe passionately in the notion that the accused MUST be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So right now, Paul Manafort has to be considered to be an innocent man.
That said, the indictment appears to be pretty solid. It includes one count of conspiracy against the United States, one count of conspiracy to launder money, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, one count of being an unregistered agent of a foreign principle, one count of making false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) statements, and one count of making false statements.
Essentially, this is a money laundering indictment. It’s grounded in monies coming from foreign sources having powerful political connections. It’s a well-constructed foundation for the accusation of collusion. And at the heel of the hunt, that’s what this is all about. It’s about Russia attempting (and, it seems clear, succeeding) to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump.
This is just the first step in building that case. Robert Mueller is a career prosecutor with a reputation of being both dogged and scrupulously honest (which is wonderful in a democratic system, and a terrifying combination to criminal defense guys like me). He didn’t put together a team of a dozen and a half seasoned prosecutors just to indict and prosecute a couple of guys like Manafort and Gates.
But here’s why this is a sad day: like all criminal prosecutions, this is the system attempting to correct (or at least ameliorate) something that already happened. This indictment is a reminder that a massive crime was (and yeah, I need to include this unfortunate term) allegedly perpetrated against the citizenry of the United States. It’s also a reminder that the citizenry were complicit in their own victimization. And it’s a reminder that the offense is still taking place.
There’s still a lot of hard and ugly work ahead of us. Is it too early to cheer? Yes. But hey, cheer anyway. Cheer because it’s a good start and we’ve had so little to cheer about lately.
ADDENDUM (for the folks asking about Comrade Trump firing Mueller): The law is pretty clear about this — and remember, this law was crafted in relation to the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton. The special counsel can only “be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.” In this case, it would be the Deputy Attorney General since the AG has recused himself. The law also states the special prosecutor can only be removed for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.”
So no, Trump can’t just decide to fire Mueller. He can, though, order the DAG to fire him. If the DAG refuses, Trump can fire the DAG, then appoint a new DAG who would follow the president’s order. As I’ve stated elsewhere, that ought to be considered highly improbable — but this is the Trump administration in which the concept of improbability is pretty fluid.