Constitutional Convenience and Manafort's Lawsuit - by Greer Clem
"The principle that government must be both limited in power and accountable to the people lies at the core of our constitutional traditions. That principle must be zealously guarded against creeping incursions." Those are the opening lines of the lawsuit filed yesterday by Paul Manafort against Bob Mueller and Rod Rosenstein. The irony of this introduction cannot be overstated. Manafort, former Trump campaign manager currently under investigation for collusion, is basing his lawsuit on the limits of power sacred to our constitution. It's a bold move, invoking the constitution's values to defend yourself against an FBI investigation into your history with Russia; I'll give him that much. Manafort's lawsuit speaks to the nature of the Trump campaign and how it views the constitution. When convenient for them, they will invoke it as a safeguard. When detrimental to their pursuit of power, they ignore it entirely. Unfortunately for Manafort and other Trump campaign officials, the constitution is not a safety blanket, and I'm here to remind them why.
Manafort bases his lawsuit on the grounds that Rosenstein granted Mueller powers of investigation that are overly probative. Essentially, he wants his financial records to be off limits to the Justice Department. The problem is that his financial records show he had received more than $17 million over two years from "a Ukranian political party with links to the Kremlin." Furthermore, Manafort had done financial consulting for a billionaire Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin with the goal of influencing Russian financial opportunities abroad. Considering Manafort was also present at the now famous Russia meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner, these financial records are not inconsequential.
The suit begins by outlining the pitfalls of the independent counsel position. Kenneth Starr is obviously mentioned, as well as previous determinations by former Attorney General Janet Reno that the independent counsel system "couldn't get any worse." The suit cites DOJ's determination that the Attorney General would henceforth have the right to appoint special counsel in connection "with matters that may present a conflict of interest for the Department of Justice or the Executive Branch." Manafort therefore sets the stage to argue that Rosenstein giving Mueller a carte blanche to investigate "anything he stumbles across" while probing into the Russia investigation is overreaching power.
Now, this would perhaps be a sound argument if not for the context. It was not as though Mueller's appointment opened the door for an investigation into Manafort's financial dealings with associates of the Russian government. On the contrary, Manafort had already been under FBI surveillance since 2014. This initial investigation was prompted by Manafort's work for Ukranian government officials. When Manafort was brought in to the Trump campaign as manager, it was therefore obvious that questions would arise about his connections to Russia. A warrant granted in 2016, before Bob Mueller's appointment as Special Counsel in May, 2017, allowed the FBI to investigate Manafort as a potential agent of a foreign power. Displaying his usual cockiness and sense of invincibility, Manafort himself attended the meeting with Don Jr., Kushner, and a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Manafort's lawsuit alleges the following: "The indictment does not charge any links between Mr. Manafort and the Russian government. Instead, the Special Counsel has constructed an indictment that, at its essence, concerns failing to file certain informational reports of offshore bank accounts and failing to register as a foreign agent. None of the charges relate to Mr. Manafort's activities during his brief stint in 2016 as the campaign manager for he Trump presidential campaign." Now, that would be a lovely argument if not for all the evidence I just enumerated. It is absurdly obtuse to believe that Manafort was hired with no knowledge of his previous work for Russian officials. It is equally stupid to believe Manafort's attendance at the Russia meeting has no relation to his financial relationship with Russian officials. And even if he had entered the campaign and the meeting with pure intentions, he would still have been under investigation by the FBI for not registering as a foreign agent. A foreign agent has no business running an American presidential campaign.
This brings me back to the original issue of constitutional convenience. The climate under the Trump presidency has been one of a continuous threat to American values. You don't have to agree with that analysis to be able to accurately take the public's temperature and realize many others feel that way. So for Manafort and his lawyer to allege that an investigation by a longstanding Republican, widely considered to be one of the best public servants this nation has ever seen, is a constitutional violation is disgusting. A constitutional violation would be the muslim ban which Trump instituted, then found to be unlawful by circuit judges across this country. A constitutional violation would be banning transgender people from serving in the military, another misuse of executive power found to be unlawful.
Manafort mocks our constitution by using it as a document of convenience. It is not a resource used for a midterm paper and then carelessly tossed aside; it is the foundation of our country and a topic of daily discussion among those of us trying to salvage our values. So while Manafort may think he has used the law to his advantage, he is merely further demonstrating his complete lack of respect for it, something the FBI realized back in 2014. If his previous financial ties to Russian government sympathizers is not evidence enough of his lack of patriotism, his use of constitutional convenience surely is.