The White House will see this as “a limited victory,” Ryan Grim tells CBS News this morning, assuming that nothing else comes out of the Robert Mueller pursue. “Is it the Trump administration colluding with Vladimir Putin to win an election? No,” Grim concludes. “It’s not even close.”
Of course, that assumes nothing else is coming, and that the pressure on Manafort to cut a deal won’t shake something else loose, Grim points out:
Indictment not even close to saying Trump admin. & Putin colluded, but could get Manafort to lead investigators in that direction, Grim says pic.twitter.com/XaMCuCQdnT
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 30, 2017
Grim’s correct, and the reaction in the media has been instructive. The main theme in reaction after the release of the indictment has been barely disguised disappointment. It’s akin to “Fitzmas” in October 2005, when the media and critics of George W. Bush widely expected a special counsel indictment to take down major players in the White House over the Valerie Plame scandal (the first one, not the second one). Instead, Patrick Fitzgerald only indicted Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, which shaved a lot of luster off of the investigation.
We’re not there yet, but the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates has even less connection to the main thread of the special counsel probe than Libby did in 2006. While the indictment does state that it covers activities “from 2006 to 2017,” the financial transactions related to money laundering and tax fraud primarily took place between 2008 and 2014. The companies that allegedly acted as fronts for Manafort and Gates were formed no later than 2013. The FARA violations took place between 2006 and 2014, according to the indictment, too.
So what happened after 2014? For one thing, Manafort allegedly continued his tax fraud past that point by never declaring all of the money from the earlier transactions. He also allegedly committed fraud in a mortgage transactions regarding a property in Cyprus. Otherwise, the actions charged that took place after 2014 related to false statements to investigators regarding FARA status and his financial transactions. Everything in the indictment relates to activities by Manafort and Gates that took place well before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign.
Grim makes an interesting point about pardons, noting that Trump can’t shield Manafort from prosecution entirely. Right now the charges are federal, but most of these alleged crimes can be easily taken up by the state of New York if the feds had to drop it because of a clemency action by Trump. Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, and it’s a safe bet that New York Attorney General Eliot Schneiderman would enthusiastically pick up the case if the DoJ was forced to abandon it.
The more intriguing indictment in terms of the core mission of Mueller’s probe is the indictment of George Papadopoulos, who started off as a campaign aide to Ben Carson but crossed over to Trump later. Allahpundit already has plenty of good insight into this, but bear in mind that Papadopoulos wasn’t a high-ranking member of the campaign either, and might end up being more of a parallel to Scooter Libby. On the other hand, this touches on the original suspicion that the Trump campaign may have sought Russian help in getting access to hacked data — in this case, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails — but this looks like a post-hack attempt.
Here’s a hint to anyone caught up in a federal investigation: Either tell the truth to investigators, or just shut up entirely and hire a lawyer to represent you. You’ll have a lot fewer problems in life, and so will your colleagues and friends.