Mueller learns he is not above the law
An experienced federal judge has confirmed what I have been arguing for months, namely, that the modus operandi of special counsel Robert Mueller is to charge associates of Donald Trump with any crime he can find in order to squeeze them into turning against the president.Mueller's tactics are two-fold. First, he charges people with crimes unrelated to his job of investigating Russian collusion with the Trump campaign then he maneuvers to financial ruin everyone in his wake who might be a witness. This is what he did with Gen. Flynn whos son was also threatened with prosecution for what looks like an offense Flynn was not guilty of. That is what the DOJ has been trying to hide from Congress by redacting material sought by committees. This looks very much like prosecutorial misconduct.
This is what Judge T.S. Ellis III said at a hearing Friday: “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud … What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”
This tactic is as old as Adam turning against Eve. But, as the judge correctly pointed out, it risks the possibility that the squeezed witness will not only sing, he will compose. Here is what Ellis said about that: “This vernacular is to ‘sing,’ is what prosecutors use. What you got to be careful of is, they may not only sing, they may compose.”
I have been using this “compose” metaphor for decades and I am gratified that a judge borrowed it to express an important civil liberties concern. Every experienced criminal lawyer has seen this phenomenon at work. I have seen it used by prosecutors who threaten wives, parents, siblings and, in one case, the innocent son of a potential witness who was about to graduate law school. Most judges, many of whom were former prosecutors, have also seen it. But few have the courage to expose it publicly, as Ellis has done.
Defenders of Mueller’s tactic argue that the threatened witnesses and their relatives are generally guilty of some crime, or else they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the prosecutor’s threats. This may be true, but the crimes they are threatened to be charged with are often highly technical, elastic charges that are brought only as leverage. They are dropped as soon as the witness cooperates.
This was precisely the point Ellis was making with regard to Manafort. A similar point could be made with regard to Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and perhaps to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Indeed, Flynn pleaded guilty to a highly questionable charge precisely because his son was threatened with prosecution.