The indictment accuses Mr. Manafort (and business partner Richard Gates ) of funneling money from a pro-Russia party in Ukraine into offshore shell companies and bank accounts. They then allegedly used these accounts to fund their spending habits, neglecting to declare the money to the IRS.
The indictment also accuses Mr. Manafort of failing to register as an agent for a foreign government as required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This is news mainly because violations of that law haven’t been successfully prosecuted since 1966. The Russia probe has exposed the degree to which lobbyists ignore this statute that the Justice Department has failed to enforce. (Democrat Anthony Podesta announced Monday that he is leaving his lobbying firm amid the Mueller probe. He is the brother of John Podesta, who ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign.)
The most striking news is that none of this involves the 2016 election campaign. The indictment makes clear that Mr. Manafort’s work for Ukraine and his money transfers ended in 2014. The 2016 charges are related to false statements Mr. Manafort made to the Justice Department.
In other words, Mr. Manafort stands accused of a financial and lobbying scam, which is exactly what Mr. Trump risked in hiring a swamp denizen. Mr. Manafort has lobbied for a rogues gallery of dictators, with the occasional domestic scandal (HUD contracts).
Separately, Mr. Mueller released a guilty plea by Trump campaign policy adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI in early 2017 about his interaction with “foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.” The plea suggests Russians might have been attempting to supply the Trump campaign with opposition research on Hillary Clinton. But Mr. Mueller provides no evidence this happened.
One popular theory is that Mr. Mueller is throwing the book at Mr. Manafort so he will cop a plea and tell what he knows about Russian-Trump campaign chicanery. But that assumes he knows something that to date no Congressional investigation has found. Prosecutors typically try to turn witnesses before they indict, and Messrs. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty on Monday.
Meanwhile, we’ve learned in recent days that Fusion GPS, the oppo research firm hired by Democrats to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump, was hired initially by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website largely funded by GOP donor Paul Singer. This is embarrassing for the Free Beacon, which has been caught jumping in bed with sleazy operators like Fusion.
But none of this absolves Democrats from their role in financing Fusion to hire Christopher Steele, the former British spook, to collect information about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia. The Free Beacon says it had nothing to do with Mr. Steele or his dossier.
The Democrat-Fusion-Russia story requires as full an investigation as the question of Trump-Russia collusion. All the more so given that the FBI may have used the Steele dossier, much of which has been discredited, to begin investigating the Trump campaign and to seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Some readers were offended that we suggested last week that Mr. Mueller is too close to the FBI after running it for a dozen years to investigate the agency’s role with the dossier. But no one has explained why such a relationship isn’t a conflict of interest. The probe can continue with someone else in charge, but most of the press corps is so invested in the Russia-Trump collusion narrative that they refuse even to acknowledge uncomfortable facts they’d usually be shouting about.
Americans deserve to know how Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign, but one problem with special prosecutors is that they exist to prosecute—someone, somewhere for something—more than they shed light. The latter should be Congress’s job, and the Members should keep pressing to tell the complete story.
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