Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie

Gee, it’s good to be back home…

It took 9 and a half hours to get back to home and office after my CLE tour in rural Pennsylvania, an adventure that also featured a malfunctioning transmission and new Garmin GPS that went rogue, took us in circles once and 20 miles in the wrong direction another time. This is why the ProEthics, aka the Marshalls, never take vacations. It’s cheaper and safer to have such disasters at home.

1.  Explain to me, somebody...why Paul Manafort’s conviction on ten charges that occurred before Donald Trump ran for President and that have nothing to do with Russia or the Trump campaign somehow endangers Trump’s Presidency? Why is this significant news? Why is it on the front page? Now, I can see why his acquittal would be big news, and it would raise fascinating questions about the Mueller investigation’s focus and competence, but the convictions? Please explain. Somebody?

Right-wing blogger Liz Shield’s cynical explanation of why Manafort was involved in the investigation at all is beginning to look good to me. Shouldn’t it? She writes,

He was put on trial because he worked for Trump so that the left can interfere with Trump’s presidency by clouding everything he does with the threat of looming criminal investigations. That way the hyenas on the cable news network have something to squeak about on their nightly clown shows and most importantly, so that no one wants to work for Trump because the cost is too high.

Now, Liz unfortunately resorts to an “everybody does it” defense of Manafort himself, which undermines her credibility:

Manafort was charged with being a sleazy political consultant like many, many others who operate inside the beltway. Did I mention almost everyone in the consulting business in the D.C. area is a sleaze bucket?…Manafort is 69 years old and he faces decades of prison time. He has another trial with more charges in Washington, D.C., and that starts next month.The never-Trump maniacs danced around in glee in their sad Twitter reality, but no one, and I mean no one, could withstand the scrutiny of a federal investigation of this magnitude. I’d love to see any of these never-Trump sad sacks come out clean after a probe by a massive army of government lawyers and investigators.

There is nothing wrong with Manafort being charged, convicted and punished. If what Shield says is true, then more sleazy consultants should be investigated and face the same fate.

2. And speaking of “sleaze buckets” and  “never-Trump maniacs danced around in glee”…The plea deal by ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen is also being hyped absurdly, though it does have something to do with the President, and definitely raises all sorts of ethics issues. The funniest one is whether anything Michel Cohen says has any credibility at all. Astoundingly, Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote that Trump should resign or be impeached after Cohen guilty plea. This is an excellent example of how the resistance is so hungry for impeachment that it leaps at any theory, no matter how dubious. I seriously doubt that Jack the Ripper could be found guilty of a crime based on the testimony of Michael Cohen. Why does Stephens believe him? Because he wants to believe him, that’s all, even though there are few public figures alive with less integrity or trustworthiness. Has Stephens read the Constitution? “High crimes and misdemeanors” is usually believed to mean “while in office.” A pre-election election law violation, even a serious one, would not, or should not, qualify. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/6/17: Comey’s Premature Draft, Obama’s Golden Rule Breach, Newspapers “Protecting Us,”And Thank-You, Boston Red Sox

 

1 I want to sincerely thank the Boston Red Sox for giving me, the sole baseball ethicist on the web who also devotes a disturbing amount of his time, energy and passion to following the team, the challenge and opportunity to address a major cheating scandal involving the organization and institution I love. Seriously, guys, thank you. This is exactly what I needed to face after staying up past 1 AM watching the Sox pull out a 19 inning, 6 hour game on Hanley Ramirez’s bloop single to center.

I’ll cover the issue in the next post. Ugh.

2. Ironically, just as the anti-Trump news media was hyperventilating over the fact that the Special Counsel was examining a draft letter by the President regarding his reasons for firing James Comey (draft letters have minimal probative value if any, but you know: Trump), it came to light that in May of 2016, Comey had drafted a statement declining to charge Hillary Clinton or her staff in the State Department e-mail scandal, months before key witnesses (like Clinton herself) had been interviewed or much of the evidence had been reviewed. President Trump, of course, tweeted that this proved there was a “rigged process,” but Comey’s draft is no more incriminating that Trump’s draft. (Now, Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton might suggest a rigged process, but that’s another story.)

Supreme Court Justices have drafted opinions before oral argument; that doesn’t mean they can’t change their minds. It is certainly odd that Comey would have drafted a statement that Clinton would not be indicted so long before the investigation was completed. It is odder still that Hillary’s interview was not under oath, that it wasn’t videotaped, that there was no transcript, and that she was allowed to have representing her as an attorney at the session a top aide who was also a potential witness.

Professor Turley, in a column at The Hill, agrees that the early draft doesn’t implicate the integrity of the investigation, but raises a related issue:

While I am inclined to accept assurances from Comey that he did not finally decide on charges until after reviewing all of the evidence, the details from the Clinton investigation hardly support a view of a robust and dogged effort in comparison to the type of investigation of people like Paul Manafort.

In pursuing Manafort, special counsel Robert Mueller has now enlisted an army of investigators, reached a cooperative relationship with staunch Trump critic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and actively pursued tax and financial dealings far afield of the original Russian collusion allegations. He also ordered a heavy-handed (and unnecessary) “no knock” search in the middle of the night on Manafort’s home.

The Clinton investigation looks like Club Fed in comparison. Clinton and her staff refused to cooperate with State Department investigators seeking confirm any damage to national security. Key laptops were withheld and only turned over after Comey’s staff agreed to destroy the computers after their review, despite the relevance of the evidence to congressional investigations. Comey then cut five immunity deals with key Clinton staff members, including former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano, who set up a server in Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and worked for her at the State Department.

Pagliano refused to cooperate after invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and destroyed evidence after being given a preservation order. Those deals raised the concern over a type of prosecutorial planned obsolescence, making a viable case less likely.

The amusing part is that all of this circles back to Comey’s firing, which was justified by his handling of the Clinton investigation regardless of any other factors.

3. The New York Times today reviews a festival play called “___hole.” That’s not really the title, however, although “___hole” was printed twice as the play title before the Times made this clear. A comment by the reviewer noted that the real title couldn’t “get past the editors.” Continue reading