Today’s announcement’s that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted by a grand jury on tax, money laundering, foreign agent registration, and lying charges rocked D.C. The White House predictably responded that none of the charges involved conduct during the Trump campaign. In reality that should be one of the most chilling parts of today’s announcement for the White House.
The Manafort and Gates indictments show that Mueller interprets his charge as going well beyond punishing conduct directly connected to campaign activity. His willingness to seek tax and money laundering charges based on conduct that occurred before the campaign lets Trump know that his past financial and business operations are subject to investigation. A man who has made millions by selling wildly overpriced properties to Russian oligarchs and has bragged about his ability to stay one step ahead of the IRS should now be rethinking the wisdom of running for president. It’s not looking as if it will end well. Jared Kushner’s financial life is also under Mueller’s microscope.
Trump should be equally concerned by the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, which ties his campaign directly to attempts to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. There was collusion. Perhaps of even more concern to the White House should be that until today nobody outside Mueller’s shop knew that Papadopoulos was arrested in July, entered a guilty plea in early October, and has been cooperating with Mueller ever since. Based on the documents released today, Papadopoulos was inside the campaign and has a lot to share. His emergence today reminds Trump and the public that we simply do not know how many more insiders are now cooperating with Mueller. There is nothing like the imminence of a felony indictment to loosen the tongue. It’s unlikely Papadopoulos stands alone in his decision to cooperate.
The net is tightening, raising fear that Trump will lash out by granting pardons and/or firing Mueller. Both possibilities have been discussed in more detail in this blog. Now is the time for congress to act by passing legislation to protect Mueller and considering whether constraints can be imposed on the president’s ability to use the pardon power to protect himself. Of course, passing legislation would require Republican votes. Time to step up.
Bill Yeomans is the Senior Justice Fellow at Alliance for Justice. He currently serves as Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School, and previously taught constitutional law, civil rights, and legislation at American University Washington College of Law. He also served for 26 years in the Department of Justice, where he litigated cases involving voting rights and discrimination in employment, housing, and education, and prosecuted police officers and racially motivated violent offenders before assuming a series of management positions, including acting Assistant Attorney General. For three years, Bill served as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has also held positions at AFJ and the American Constitution Society. The opinions of the writer are his own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Alliance for Justice.