The Manafort indictment is the topic of a column that I will be posting here later. In the meantime, though, at least one point is worth paying attention to that I haven't yet seen raised elsewhere. It appears that the government is now going to take the position that consulting to a foreign political party or politician requires registering as a foreign agent, disclosing all your fees and bringing them all back into the U.S. with full taxes paid on them. Is it going to apply this standard only to Paul Manafort? Or is it going to apply the standard evenly and equally to consultants on all sides? NPR reported in 2014, for example, that the British conservative party had hired former Obama campaign aide Jim Messina, and that the British politician Ed Milliband had hired "Obama campaign mastermind" David Axelrod. American consultant Stanley Greenberg has reportedly worked for the Israeli Labor Party.
A 2009 Politico story by Ben Smith and Kenneth P. Vogel reported:
In Kiev and Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine, American political consultants who worked against one another in Iowa and New Hampshire and then in the general election are facing off again in a somewhat surreal Eastern European replay of the 2008 campaign.
The firm headed by Hillary Clinton's former chief strategist, Mark Penn, is helping run incumbent President Victor Yushchenko's campaign. Meanwhile Paul Manafort, whose firm worked on Republican John McCain's losing effort, and Tad Devine, a top strategist on the Democratic presidential campaigns of Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, are consulting for Victor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian frontrunner in the polls.
For Penn, Manafort and Devine, foreign elections have been a lucrative source of business for years. But for the Chicago-based media consulting firm AKPD, the contract to help guide Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's campaign is part of a new, growth area of business that presented itself after the firm helped Barack Obama win the White House last fall.
I'm not trying to make excuses for Manafort or engage in "whataboutism." Maybe the Democratic strategists scrupulously followed all the laws Manafort allegedly broke. Maybe the difference is that Manafort's activities were not limited to abroad but instead also involved Congress and other American entities. But one of the criticisms of the special prosecutor set-up is that rather than enforcing the law impartially it chooses a victim. As Robert Jackson put it in another context: "It is in this realm — in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies." So it would be worth exploring. One could make a case that the Foreign Agents Registration Act is itself an infringement on the First Amendment rights of speech and petition, and that Manafort's tax issues, such as they may be, are better handled as a civil not criminal matter. As for the 18 USC 1001 count leveled against Manafort, well, he may want to say a prayer for the health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.