08.22.2018 0

Paul Manafort might be guilty, but not of the Russia conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 elections

By Robert Romano

An edited, shortened version of this oped appeared on USA Today.

The jury has reached its verdict in the trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, finding him guilty of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and the judge declaring a mistrial on the other ten. But what looms over this outcome are the crimes that Manafort was never charged with and yet were the whole reason Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed in the first place to investigate. That is, the plot to assist Russia with hacking the DNC and John Podesta emails and putting them on Wikileaks during the 2016 election.

To be clear, the appointment of Mueller as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, 2017 was to investigate, mainly, “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections” and  “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump…”

Those allegations originated in part with former British spy Christopher Steele who in 2016, working for Fusion GPS, the DNC and the Clinton campaign, alleged that not only had Russia hacked the Democrats and put the emails on Wikileaks, but that Trump and his campaign helped with “full knowledge and support” of the operation. Manafort and campaign advisor Carter Page were named by Steele as the key intermediaries to Moscow.

But none of that has turned out to be true. Neither Manafort nor Page have been charged with any of those things. Nothing implicating Russia, the 2016 election or the hack. Instead Manafort was charged with unrelated bank fraud and tax evasion charges from his time working, not in Russia, but in Ukraine as a political consultant. The specific charges date from 2010 to 2015, which was before Manafort was ever brought on to be President Donald Trump’s campaign manager in 2016.

Since then, we have learned more by way of who was not charged for the hack. On July 13, when Russian intelligence officers were accused by Mueller of hacking the DNC and Podesta emails and putting them on Wikileaks, although at times the Russians were allegedly in contact with Americans, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has flatly noted, “There is no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.” Rosenstein added, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime,” nor was there any indication the hacks had altered any votes or the outcome of the election.

By then, the Manafort trial was already well under way. If he was ever going to be prosecuted for conspiring with Russia on the DNC and Podesta hacks along the lines of what Steele had alleged, Mueller would have done so by now. Meaning, Mueller likely could not find evidence to support Steele’s specific allegations of conspiring with Russia against Trump, Manafort, Page and others including former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen has now pleaded guilty, but not for traveling to Prague to conspire with Russian intelligence officers in 2016 to cover up the Wikileaks matter as Steele had fantastically alleged, but to more non-Russia related matters including bank, tax and campaign charges.

This has always been a prosecution in search of a crime, as Mueller has well exceeded his mandate. All of which calls into question why Manafort was ever prosecuted by the Special Counsel in the first place and not simply a U.S. Attorney like Cohen’s prosecution was handled — and why the Special Counsel is even still on the job looking for evidence of a crime he does not think took place. If Trump campaign officials in fact did not coordinate the DNC and Podesta hacks and the Wikileaks publication with Russia, then it’s time for Mueller to wrap this up and stop wasting the nation’s time.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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