The biggest lesson from the special counsel investigation isn’t about Trump, but about justice

In sentencing documents, the special counsel’s office referred to Paul Manafort’s crimes as both “bold” and “brazen.” The word they didn’t use was “overlooked,” but that’s also absolutely true. Manafort is heading to federal prison for the rest of his life on a list of felonies a mile long—but if a special prosecutor had not been appointed, he would, at this moment, be getting fitted for a new vest made from some endangered species. 

Manafort and his partner Rick Gates committed multiple felonies over a span of decades. They weren’t sly about it. They weren’t particularly cautious or clever or even competent in their efforts to cover up illegal lobbying, money laundering, and tax fraud. They just never expected to get caught because guys like them never do. The same is true of Roger Stone, who was another of Manafort’s partners at the lobbying firm charmingly known as the “Torturer’s Lobby” for its willingness to help out brutal dictators and even-more-brutal would-be dictators.

And the same is true of Donald Trump, whose long history of money laundering isn’t just well-known, but an integral part of his business model. And of Michael Cohen, who tricked, threatened, and cheated not just for Trump, but for his other clients as well. And of Michael Flynn, who polished his uniform boots and went out to offer his services arranging everything from illegal lobbying to attempted kidnapping. And of Erik Prince, who knows that when assassination is done on a large scale, it becomes absurdly profitable.

Let’s be honest: Trump’s taxes aren’t in hiding because they included a Form-1099 from Vladimir Putin “for services rendered.” Trump wants the IRS to burn his records because they clearly show that he committed multiple, regular felonies in reporting his taxes. He broke the law. Just like he did with Trump University. Just like he did with the Trump “charity.” Just like he did in covering up the real worth of what he inherited from his father. Just like he did in money laundering through his New Jersey casinos. Just like he did all day, every day, at his business.

The real revelation of the investigations into Trump and his foreign connections isn’t even that the man occupying the White House is a crook, and the man who ran the Republican convention three times and acted as an adviser to a half-dozen presidents is a crook, and so is his partner, and so is his partner, and so are they all. The real revelation is that it took a special counsel to see any of these men face serious prosecution no matter what they did, or how often they did it, or how “bold” their crimes might be.

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