You can read about Manafort anywhere and the Politico story is here, but I basically described all the ways that foreign lobbyists can evade the rules under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Probably the most interesting revelation in the story was contained in this paragraph:
And here’s another trick that’s even better, and it’s not just used by Russia. Let’s say a government wants a lobbyist or someone else to do some work for them in Washington. Maybe it’s lobbying and maybe it’s not exactly lobbying. The country simply has a major American law firm hire the lobbyist or PR executive, and now you’re not lobbying for Russia, you’re providing litigation support for a certified American law firm. And it’s 100 percent legal and outside the purview of the ever more meaningless FARA statute.
My editors at Politico, as noted, cut most of my thoughts about Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation. That was wise because they weren’t really relevant to the story. Furthermore, I hadn’t — and still haven’t — read almost anything about yesterday’s indictments. It seems that a guy whose name sounds like George Stephanopoulos is in a lot of hot water and that sounds like a good thing tho I wish Stephanopoulos was too, because he’s a total creep.
As far as Mueller’s investigation — and let me state now that I don’t share official DC’s love of this guy — I guess it will pick up steam as people like Manafort flip to try to save themselves. In any case, here’s what I wrote yesterday, lightly edited, that was cut and which is definitely worth reading:
So, the big news in today’s episode of Russiagate is that President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was indicted on charges that he illegally funneled more than $18 millions “through overseas shell companies and used the money to buy luxury cars, real estate, antiques and expensive suits,” in the words of the New York Times. Manafort’s longtime associate, Rick Gates, was also indicted.
The charges show that special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, “has taken an expansive view of his mandate,” the Times reports. The newspaper also noted that the indictments don’t mention of Trump or election meddling but instead describe “in granular detail Mr. Manafort’s lobbying work in Ukraine and what prosecutors said was a scheme to hide that money from tax collectors and the public.”
Manafort’s indictment was hinted at in a spasm of weekend cable news coverage, though he and Gates weren’t charged or officially named untilnow. This news will ensure that media companies will continue to feverishly and cynically cover the so-called Russiagate affair for another 72 hours — and who knows, perhaps the next four years? — in order to jack up their ratings and click numbers.
This is no apology for Trump or Manafort. I’ve spent most of this year working on a story about the president, including his ties to Russian interests, and it’s scheduled to be published this week. I believe it’s an important story and getting to the bottom of Trump’s ties to Russia, and other foreign powers, is a legitimate journalistic endeavor…
However, much of the media’s coverage has been hysterical and overwrought, and so is today’s coverage, not to mention the state of Mueller’s investigation based on what this new information reveals. Whatever you think of Trump — and I dislike his personality and policies about as much as I dislike Hillary Clinton’s, neither whom I voter for last year — I have serious doubts about the whole Russiagate affair, which has been heavily promoted by the media and Democratic mega-donors who want to force Trump from office, via impeachment or sooner if he can be pressured to resign.
Look, I’m not a lawyer but I thought you have to have committed high crimes and misdemeanors against your office to be impeached. What Trump did five or ten years ago as a businessman or what his one-time aides did a few years ago while lobbying are not, as I understand it, impeachable offenses. And I also have yet to see proof that Trump himself has offered Russia and Vladimir Putin any quid pro quo in exchange for money they might have funneled into his business projects, which is at the heart of the investigation.
Has Putin played Trump like a fiddle? Indeed, he has. Is Trump a stooge of Putin’s? I don’t believe it for an instant, he’s far too much of an Alpha male to be anyone’s witting pawn…
As far as I’m concerned, up until now the entire Russiagate investigation is politically motivated and is an effort at regime change on the part of Democrats and other discontents who oppose Trump. Hey, if you don’t like Trump, beat him at the ballot box with better ideas, don’t quietly spend millions of dollars to remove him from office and pretend you have the country’s best interests foremost in mind.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel and I’m sure he wants to deliver results, preferably Trump’s head. Maybe he will but so far he he hasn’t and nothing in today’s news changes that.
If Trump were smart, he would just STFU. But he’s not and he may well stumble into the perjury trap that Mueller is clearly setting for him. Meanwhile, the rest of us will just have to sit back, make some popcorn, and watch the new episode of Russiagate, beginning right about now.
OK, that’s the end of what was cut from yesterday’s story. I stand by it, though the allegations against Manafort, Gates and the guy with the Greek name seem potentially serious.
But I still feel that much of all this is a politically-motivated witch hunt. Manafort was only targeted for violating FARA because he worked for Trump. If the statute was enforced half of DC would be locked up, and it wouldn’t be young black men, as currently, it would be mostly white guys and gals in business suits.
Jeffrey Sommers commented on this on a post of Doug Henwood’s that generously praised my Politico story. He noted interesting parallels with Vladimir Putin selectively going after the oligarch Mikhail Khordokovsky, who I’m no fan of for reasons too complicated to go into here. Putin, Sommers wrote, “jailed him for engaging in the routine tax evasion practiced by all oligarchs. I shed zero tears for the guy, but the entire class of them should have received the same fate. The Manafort case represents the same. The post-Soviet space has seen an unending stream of well-connected US carpet-bagger lobbyists engaging in the same type of activities for which Manafort is going down for. Glad the guy is going down, but the ‘ship’ of fellow carpet-baggers going down should be Titanic-sized in scope.”