Why Paul Manafort's Indictment is Good for the GOP
Paul Manafort is a crooked dude.
He, along with his former lobbying partner, Roger Stone, have no qualms about being the bad guys. They claw and they seek influence, and they always want some piece of the action. They lack personal integrity, and have no problems with operating in the ethical shadows. There are equally shadowy figures on the left, who create scandal and tarnish reputation, merely by association.
For months the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been investigating "Russia Collusion" under the following mandate given to him by the DOJ:
"The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:
(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)."
The mandate also grants Mueller the ability to indict and prosecute federal crimes stemming from this subject matter. The CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) cited, relates to the special counsel's regulatory authority, which allows the scope of the investigation to expand, and also cover meta-investigatory charges (charges that are related to the investigation itself--obstruction of justice, conspiracy, lying to federal investigators, etc.).
What does all this mean, and what of the news of Paul Manafort's indictment?
Paul Manafort has been a foreign lobbyist for years. He has represented shadowy figures in East Europe, and warlords in Africa. Representing such figures and countries has no bearing on Manafort's integrity, because even the most morally reprehensible figures deserve representation and the promotion of their interests and rights to the fullest extent of the law (something any criminal defense attorney knows). But the problem comes when the agent or lobbyist adopts the moral reprehensibility of their client. This comes in the form of knowingly holding dirty money, misrepresenting or flat-out lying about what interests they represent, who these interests harm, and abusing the legal process. Registering as a lobbyist for a foreign country does not necessarily mean the lobbyist believes in the cause--it is merely who pays for the lights in the office to stay on. Properly disclosed, there should be no issue with the representation. However, when the lobbyist bends and breaks the law in order to illegally advance and obscure the true interests of his morally reprehensible client, that creates a legal issue. Not due to the universally acknowledged moral reprehensibility of the client, but rather due to the lobbyist's own illegal actions.
Manafort is accused of having laundered money, made false statements, and filed false lobbying reports. This is where the alleged crime occurred. Netflix’s documentary on Stone and his associates, "Get Me Roger Stone," illuminates the fact that the former partners of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly had no qualms about both representing shadowy figures, and leveraging their own personal integrity for higher fees. It meant that their professional and personal integrity was on the line, and that for the right price, they would make false statements, file false reports, hide money, and commit a plethora of other self-debasements. This is the problem with such operators--they have no ethical constraints, and charge a premium for operating in the shadows of the law. Such people debase an honored democratic process, and turn it into a no-holds-barred, brass-knuckled bar brawl which brings the country and its political discourse down yet another level with every campaign cycle.
This brings me to my main point: why in the world is this good for the GOP? Manafort briefly ran Trump's campaign from March until August of 2016. He was then abruptly forced out of his position, and no longer had any active role in the campaign. Kellyanne Conway, a newcomer to electoral politics, was hired to replace him, and the campaign moved forward, with Trump ultimately winning the election. Conway had prior experience as a pollster, but had never before managed an electoral campaign.
This shakeup raises the huge, obvious, but overlooked question: Why abruptly fire Manafort, a well-known, prominent, expert political lobbyist and operator, who had over forty years of experience on presidential campaigns dating back to Gerald Ford, and replace him with a novice? Why fire him so abruptly, at arguably one of the most important points in the campaign, before the final push to November? Why sacrifice the success of the campaign so close to the finish line by shaking up the head campaign staff weeks before the election?
I believe that Manafort was likely fired likely because his shadowy deals and questionable ethics caught up with him, and he was dealt with by the GOP. The GOP had vetted him, and found that his recent international dealings were questionable, in addition to his history of questionable behavior. I believe this is why he was abruptly fired, leaving the Trump campaign to find Conway, the last available option for campaign manager. The party thought Conway would take Trump to the finish line, but lose and avoid any major scandal brought on by keeping Manafort on the campaign. What they did not expect, was Conway's ability to leverage her experience as a pollster and actually craft a winning strategy with only about three months of time left.
Manafort's forced resignation is something that has not been emphasized in the first round of coverage of his indictment. However, the fact that the GOP forced out such a high-powered gun-for-hire, likely based on his questionable integrity, could vindicate the GOP party structure as one that is ethical, and has an ethical floor. The GOP likely recognized the unethical and potentially illegal conduct on the part of Manafort, and got rid of him promptly and quietly. They probably did so because committing crimes is a political liability, in addition to just being merely illegal. Perhaps the new system will recognize what I have always believed in my heart--it is always best for campaigns themselves (as well as the country) for public servants to focus on the issues, always tell the truth, be transparent, follow the law, and scrupulously protect their personal integrity by avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.
If this ends up being the the case, it will be good for America, in that the "swamp" recognizes that there is some point at which it needs to self-police and remove individuals who do not have the integrity required for electoral politics and public service. Selling one's integrity for the illegal benefit of a client is something that should be off the table, regardless of party, regardless of the industry, and regardless of the client.