Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2017: Special Counsel Non-Bombshell Edition

Good Morning!

1 Here is the complaint issued against former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, as well as an associate of his I had never heard of before. This is the big news that sent the “Hooray! Trump is about to be impeached!” fantasists into near orgasms over once it was leaked—leaks from investigations are unethical—that Special Counsel Mueller had finally found someone to charge.

There is nothing in the complaint, literally nothing, that relates to “Russiagate,” the 2016 election, the Trump campaign, collusion, or anything else that was among the original justifications for this exercise. I couldn’t even find the name “Trump” anywhere in its 31 pages, but my “Find” function wasn’t working very well. There may be one or two.

I have no ethical problem with charging individuals with crimes that are discovered during the course of an investigation, even if the investigation was ostensibly about something else.

2. I assume that Manafort, who sure appears to be in big trouble, will be given a chance to cut a deal if he has something significant to reveal that would implicate the President or others in the administration  in wrongdoing. In the strange psychology of the Trump Deranged, this means that the end is near for the President, because they just know that he was colluding with the Russians. They just know, that’s all. In fact, if there was no illegal activity involving the campaign, and there is no evidence that there was, the fact that Manafort will have the opportunity to “roll over” on the President doesn’t mean there is anything to roll over about. The fair presumption should be that there isn’t, until there is.

3. The breathless reporting of the Manafort complaint is another smoking gun for anti-Trump bias among the punditry and the news media. It’s quite remarkable and embarrassing.


While the target and nature of the charges remain unknown, the expected indictment — from a special counsel appointed after Trump abruptly fired his FBI director out of frustration with the Russia probe — could make Monday one of the most politically consequential days of this presidency.

Welcome to Really Bad Journalism. This isn’t reporting the news. This is reporting what a publication hopes will be the news. News sources are supposed to report what was or is, not what “could be” if their fondest wishes are realized. It is also incompetent. Why the special counsel was appointed doesn’t tell us whether a subsequent charge relates to the original justification. What did Bill Clintons lies under oath in the Paula Jones law suit have to do with Whitewater, which was what Kenn Starr was originally investigating? Prosecutors prosecute whatever crimes they encounter in an investigation.


A mood of fateful anticipation is cloaking Washington, with possible arrests imminent after the federal grand jury in the Russia investigation approved its first charges.By taking one or more people into custody, a prospect first reported by CNN Friday, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller would create a new, perilous reality for the White House, reflecting the gravity of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion by President Donald Trump’s associates.

This is also unconscionable and misleading. Paul Manafort’s alleged criminal activities unrelated to Russia or the campaign are unrelated to Russia or the campaign. Their prosecution cannot and does not “create a new, perilous reality”—what does that even mean? How does an investigation into one matter become more grave when it uncovers a crime that has nothing to do with that matter? This is the news media assuming its audience is stupid while working to make it dumber still.

4. The problem for Trump that Manifort’s problems does illustrate is Trump’s dangerous–foolish, risky—tendency to trust untrustworthy people. This is disastrous for any President, witness that self-inflicted wounds that upended President Grant’s administration. There are too many slimy, shady, creepy individuals from the business world that have moved in an out of Trump’s circles, and, ominously, his administration, like Michael Cohen, Anthony Scaramucci, Corey Lewandowski, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Steve Bannon, and others. Embarrassments for the President are inevitable; he’ll be lucky if that’s the worst he has to deal with.

40 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2017: Special Counsel Non-Bombshell Edition

  1. What about the other aide, Papadopoulos, who pled guilty today to lying to investigators? How do you see that dovetailing with this, if at all?

    • Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying, saying that he net with Russians who said they had Hillary e-mails before he was a campaign foreign policy advisor, and it was really after. He broke no laws otherwise, he got no e-mails. I don’t see it as significant.

      • I’m happy to sit back and see this play out too, but I think you might be playing this down a little.

        “Prosecutors on Mueller’s team revealed Monday that a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s campaign, George Papadopoulos, pursued Russia’s help in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and sought to open communication lines to the Kremlin. Papadopoulos worked with an international professor who promised compromising information from Russia about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. He also met with a Russian woman he believed could broker a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials.”

            • “People often lie to cover up another crime.”

              Lying is a crime/criminal activity, depending on the circumstances.

              Yet we’re left to ponder why HRC, in her 5th decade as a congenital, serial, inveterate, reflex prevaricator, is still revered in Lefty circles.

              • Lying to the state or municipal police is a very bad idea, but not a crime, lying to the Feds is, though whether that was to ensure truthfulness or to be able to ensure dirt is more likely to stick to someone who’s investigated I leave up to you.

                • “Lying to the state or municipal police is a very bad idea, but not a crime,”

                  One of the first “street” lessons I learned: “Don’t Lie To Cops,” which my Dear 92 1/2 year old Father (a Parole Officer) did nothing to dispel.

            • This has been explained to you before, Chris.

              Lying to cover up a crime is one possibility, yes.

              Another possibility is, knowing that an entire industry is zeroed in on every last facet of your conduct and knowing that industry will spin even innocuous conduct into horrifying scandal, there is an unethical motivation to even lie about what may be something completely benign.

              You don’t care about considering that, because you don’t care that the media is behaving in ways it has NEVER behaved towards a President. We thought it was bad when they hyper-focused on Bush the Younger. We hadn’t considered how rabid they could be.

    • Muller informed Rosenstein about the indictments ahead of time, Rosenstein informed Sessions, then Fox news starts hyping a 4 year old story about Hillary Clinton a couple days before everything’s scheduled to go down. And for reasons passing understanding, Trump tries to start a fight with Michael Moore of all people, someone who hadn’t even been in the news, since he was closing his limited run Broadway show and gearing up for his upcoming TV gig, the one time he was too busy for rabble-rousing.

      Who’s trying to provide cover fire?

      • The New York Times put a 4 year old story on the front page? The fact that the Clinton campaign paid, through its law firm, the infamous dossier source is not four years old; if it was, the lawyer involved wouldn’t be in trouble for lying about it now.

        Today’s indictments advance the Russian conspiracy theory not an inch, not a millimeter. All the crowing is in defiance of reality.

      • “Fox News starts hyping a 4-year old story…”

        That’s really a fantastic alternate-reality narrative. There’s a reason why MSN and other major news outlets all reported on the new Russia revelations at the same time that Fox News did (albeit quietly.) There is now brand new information that the Obama administration knew that the uranium deal was dirty BEFORE all of the money changed hands and he and Hillary pushed the deal through. We also now know that there was an actual coverup to hide this from we the people, and from Congress, until now, including a gag order.

        Fox News is crowing about it the most because they’re the ones who didn’t just paste generic “nothing to see here” statements at the time (them and the original NYT article.) They called it correctly and tried to bring attention to it, back when it was happening.

        Act as if objectivity and exacting truthfulness are critically important to you. How is the above actual revelation of collusion with Russia in any way LESS important than a crony of Trump’s lying about WHEN he met with someone from Russia about possible dirt on Clinton?

        I called this days ago, so I THINK (I’m always suspect) that I’m interpreting reality accurately. I assumed that the Trump-Russia investigation (brought to us by the same loyalists who covered up the uranium deal for Obama) had gone on embarrassingly long without the intended result, and that they’d have to wrap it up before the 1-year mark. I guessed that they would present whatever tangential wrongdoing they found among Trumps various goofs, and then puff out their chests and try to put out the general vibe that this whole thing hasn’t been one great big tax-funded debacle of a political ploy. Their allies in the media would harp on whatever scraps the investigation drug out as if Watergate was happening again, and dishonestly suggestive headlines like “Trump Tries to Redirect Attention to Hillary as Charges Loom” would appear in newspapers. I hate being right about this.

  2. I think point 4 is particularly poignant. Trump does need to be criticized for surrounding himself with shitty people. Mooch, Bannon, Manafort… If Hillary’s campaign people were caught in corruption scandals, I’d say that corruption is part of a culture actively encouraged by the Clintons, that the fish rots from the head down… But then we have decades of evidence of Hillary being corrupt… I feel like this is similar, but different; Trump’s people that get caught in this aren’t corrupt because Trump is corrupt, but the fish still rotted from the head down because Trump put them there.

  3. Isn’t the Muller investigation about Russia inference with our election? So many headlines I see call it the Trump Russia collusion investigation. Isn’t that also misleading and unethical?

  4. How does the doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree apply in this context?

    I’d argue this should be quashed under the “poison tree”. His ENTIRE investigation is based on a dossier paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign (that they thoroughly lied about the funding) and illegal leaks from Comey. There is, literally, zero actual evidence of anything.

    In fact, Mueller himself illegally leaked the plans for an indictment this weekend.

    Given that the investigation started illegally, no prosecution should follow either. Police cannot enter your house illegally and use what they found in court against you.

    Same thing here.

    • The investigation is not entirely based on the dossier, but if it were, how would that make the investigation illegal? There was nothing illegal about the funding of the dossier.

      I am also unclear why the writer thinks the investigation was based on leaks from Comey. The investigation started before Comey leaked anything.

      I expect better from Reason.

  5. Paul Manafort’s alleged criminal activities unrelated to Russia

    But it is related to Russia. The money he hid was as a result of working for a pro-Russia Ukrainian party.

    • Oh, let me be exact here, Chris, since you are in a gotcha mood: it is unrelated to the alleged Russia connections to the Trump campaign. The crimes have too do with money laundering and other conduct unrelated to any campaign contact to Russia, Most of the activity predates Trump’s candidacy.

      • Thanks for clarifying.

        I do tend to doubt that it’s a coincidence that a pro-Putin lobbyist was working for a campaign accused of colluding with Russia to meddle in the election. But I suppose it’s possible the two issues are completely unrelated.

        • It’s not even a coincidence. Russia is one of the handful of countries in the world with anything close to superpower status.

          If you switched “Russia” with “China” or maybe “India” there would be just as many business and political connections among Trump and his various associates. It looks like a “coincidence” because of the selection bias of an investigation focusing on Russia.

  6. Re: #2:

    I assume that Manafort, who sure appears to be in big trouble, will be given a chance to cut a deal if he has something significant to reveal that would implicate the President or others in the administration in wrongdoing.

    I rather suspect that if he were willing/able to cut a deal, he would’ve done so pre-indictment.

    Re: #4:

    The problem for Trump that Manifort’s problems does illustrate is Trump’s dangerous–foolish, risky—tendency to trust untrustworthy people.

    Exactly. Of all the things that trouble me about Trump, and those things are many, this is in the top two or three. Having a president with judgment this (I’ll be generous) questionable is … suboptimal.

    • But if you justified spending a year and millions of dollars on an investigation by promising proof of murder…the most face-saving thing to do is to crow about the parking tickets, claim that you were investigating parking tickets all along, and announce that the parking tickets strongly imply the murder, so mission accomplished.

      The average American capable of critical thinking is going to see this for the farce it is, perhaps remembering all the way back to a year ago when President Obama and Hillary nearly cried with anger at those dastardly Russians who surely were in cahoots with Trump to “hack the election” (apparently by forcing Clinton to keep her own compromised private server in her basement and brainwashing John Podesta into changing his email password to “password.”)

      • Podesta’s e-mail password was not “password;” that was the password to his actual computer, not his e-mail. He had a gmail account, which doesn’t allow “password” as a password.

            • Point of order: gmail DID allow ‘password’ as a password in the past (my mom used it, until I found out) Google also did not force password upgrades on legacy accounts until more recently. If you never changed your password, a suboptimum option was allowed to continue to be used. Forget your password, or attempt to change it, and the new rules applied.

              I do not know if Podesta used this on gmail, just that it was possible.

              Back to my hole in the ground, where I lurk harmlessly.

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