On Monday, after a weekend of breathless waiting for the other shoe to drop, special counsel Robert Mueller filed charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on a 12-count indictment including “conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent,” and other financial transaction-related crimes. The indictment says that Manafort funneled over $75 million through his offshore account, and essentially laundered over $18 million.
Here’s the good news for Trump: nothing in the indictment suggests collusion between Trump and the Russian government.
Here’s the bad news for Trump: Manafort was a horrible pick from the beginning for campaign manager, and that pick will smear mud on the Trump campaign even if Trump had nothing to do with Manafort’s illegal behavior.
The indictment centers almost entirely around Manafort’s alleged illegal lobbying and money laundering activities between 2006 and 2014, since Manafort’s money source was the Ukrainian Party of Regions, which dissolved in 2014 with the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych. The indictment alleges that Manafort and Richard Gates III, his right hand, worked as “unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine … generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work.” They then “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.” Manafort and Gates didn’t register as foreign agents, which they apparently were. And “Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.”
The period of defrauding the government continued through 2017, according to the indictment: “Between in or around 2008 and 2017, both dates being approximate and inclusive … Manafort and Gates devised and intended to devise, and executed and attempted to execute, a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises from the United States, bank, and other financial institutions.” They allegedly wired millions through other companies for purposes of laundering through 2014. Manafort also bought properties with offshore money in order to take loans against the property to boost his lifestyle.
The charge of “conspiracy against the United States” isn’t a treason charge — it’s a financial charge based on defrauding the United States and covering it up through obstruction of justice.
The media are going to have a tough time linking Manafort to Trump and Trump to Russia thereby, at least from the charges in this indictment. There’s literally nothing about collusion; there’s literally nothing about Trump. This is about Manafort, which could suggest that Mueller wants to flip Manafort against Trump — or it could be that Manafort is going to go down for his alleged nefarious activities over the period of the last decade and a half. But the Russian collusion narrative has not been forwarded by this indictment.