Manafort and The Criminal Syndicate Mindset: Why Trump Allies Can't Help Themselves

Tonight, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office has released its sentencing memorandum for Paul Manafort, and it is scathing. The headline news is that Mueller is recommending 20-25 years in federal prison for Manafort, quite possibly the rest of the 69-year-old’s is natural life. What is often missing from the mainstream coverage of Mueller’s memo is the staggering financial penalties the special counsel also recommends:

  • A fine of up to $24.4 million, and

  • Restitution in the amount of $24.8 million, and

  • Forfeiture of $4.4 million

If the judge in the case agrees to all of these amounts, Manafort, in addition to facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, would also be on the hook for a total of $53.6 million. Another federal judge in DC earlier in the week found as a matter of legal finding that Manafort had materially violated his plea agreement with Mueller’s office.

There are a couple of reasons why the financial penalties are at least as important, if not more so, than his potential prison term.

First, recall that at the time Manafort took the job as Trump’s campaign chair, he was basically bankrupt and had no money, so much so that in order to make it to his next payday, he offered a banker a campaign position and even an administration job in exchange for a loan. Manafort, known for his work in pro-Putin political operations in countries in the former Soviet bloc, happened to take a campaign chair job for the same man whom Putin was trying to get elected to the US presidency. With Trump’s ascent to become the GOP nominee and then to the presidency, Manafort made a lot of money, and according to Mueller’s office, it’s almost all criminal cash and he’s going to have to give it back.

Second, Manafort may well still be hoping for a presidential pardon from the criminal syndicate head that sits in the oval office. Even if he gets pardon, however, the financial penalties will still have been collected, and it will not be given back upon such a pardon. Indeed, the financial penalties might be the part of his penalty Manafort actually fully suffers in the event of a Trump pardon.

Keep in mind next that this is just one of the courts that will be sentencing Manafort for his crimes during the Trump campaign. Manafort’s guilty pleas in DC are yet to be sentenced as well.

Manafort got Trump elected. Manafort managed the Republican convention for Trump. As Mueller’s filing said today, Manafort doesn’t believe that the law applies to him.

This seems a common concept among Donald Trump’s closest allies - and of course, Trump himself. Manafort, after he was convicted in Virginia and pleaded guilty in the another case in Washington, DC, proceeded to form a cooperation agreement with Mueller’s office and then to promptly violating it and passing information onto other criminals in Trump’s orbit.

But Manafort is hardly the only one with such a record in Trump’s orbit. Last week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos exposed an extortion scheme by the National Enquirer, a national tabloid owned by close Trump ally David Pecker and infamous for catching and killing stories that would have embarrassed during the 2016 cycle. Like Manafort, The Enquirer had made a deal with federal prosecutors, which it seems to have violated by trying to extort Bezos’ through personal photos, in an apparent attempt to get back in Trump’s good graces after potentially angering him by making a deal in the Russia investigation.

It’s almost as though Trump’s closest allies can’t help themselves. A pardon is much less certain than guarantees provided by federal prosecutors, so while expectation of such a pardon is no doubt a significant factor in the minds of people like Manafort and Pecker, but I suspect that is not all. Those who have lived in and roamed in Trump’s world and reached its highest echelons got there because of a deep-seated criminal syndicate mindset. They commit crimes because they are career, professional criminals. It is what they do - committing white collar crimes is their profession.

And this mindset undoubtedly reaches all the way to the mob boss, Donald J. Trump.

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