Today’s indictment of President Donald J. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his former lobbying partner, Rick Gates, brings to mind a classic bit of criminal dialogue, to wit:
“Do you know how to steal?”
“Do you know how to hide?”
“Then you don’t know how to steal.”
That dialogue was first overheard in a Baltimore federal courthouse corridor decades ago when Spiro T. Agnew – former Baltimore County executive, former governor of Maryland, and at that moment vice president of the United States – was copping a no-contest plea when the feds charged him with taking bribes from Baltimore area developers.
Agnew was taking hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of dollars at a time. The poor shnook obviously didn’t know how to steal (“If you’re gonna steal, steal big,” goes another piece of criminal code). And he obviously didn’t know how to hide.
Compare this with today’s grand jury indictment of Manafort and Gates, which charges that they got the first part right – Manafort allegedly laundered more than $18 million through overseas shell companies, and Gates allegedly transferred more than $3 million from offshore accounts, each attempting to avoid paying taxes on that money.
But despite such alleged big-league stealing, today’s indictment implies the two men didn’t pull off the crucial second part – hiding.
Instead, it says Manafort used the money to buy luxury cars and real estate and antiques and expensive suits.
For President Trump, the good news is that the indictment says nothing specific about him by name, and says nothing explicit about Russian meddling in the last presidential election. The bad news is the detailed description of Manafort’s lobbying ties to Ukraine.
Manafort was hired as Trump’s campaign manager when Republican delegates were threatening to jump ship in favor of safer, more establishment-type GOP candidates. He helped stop the jumping but was fired after a few months when it was learned he’d received about $12 million from Viktor F. Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and a pro-Russia politician.
This, at a time when Russia was busy hacking into America’s election process and Trump was openly encouraging it – and was simultaneously buddying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Here’s the other unsettling news for lots of people around the White House. Today’s charge of money laundering carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Trump’s lawyers claim Manafort has nothing to say about the president that could put Trump in any legal trouble.
Maybe, maybe not.
But you can be certain that special prosecutor Robert Mueller, or his assistants, will be chatting with Manafort and Gates’s attorneys about such a possibility – and offering legal compromises to ease any prison possibilities now faced by the two men.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Top photo: Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as Vice president-elect Mike Pence looks on during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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