Why Manafort and Cohen Thought They’d Get Away With It

The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. One can almost sympathize with them: If it wasn’t for their decision to attach themselves to the most unlikely president in modern history, there’s every reason to think they might still be working their frauds today.

  • .. Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the I.R.S.?
  • Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed?
  • What about the world of luxury residential building in which Mr. Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

.. The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement.

.. The F.B.I. shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s

The I.R.S.’s criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition.

The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

.. How could they not? Any person in any bar in America can tell you who was held accountable for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which peaked 10 years ago next month: No one. No top officer from any major bank went to prison.

.. The Department of Justice — in Democratic as well as Republican administrations — has lost the will and ability to prosecute top executives across corporate America, at large industrial firms, tech giants, retailers, drugmakers and so on. Instead the Department of Justice reaches settlements with corporations, which pay in dollars instead of the liberty of their top officers and directors.

.. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has fallen upon a rash of other crimes. In doing so, he has exposed how widespread and serious our white-collar-fraud problem really is, and how lax enforcement has been for years.

.. The Southern District of New York, to which Mr. Mueller referred the Cohen case, raided the offices of Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, and fought for access to the materials, even as Mr. Cohen asserted attorney-client privilege. When federal prosecutors investigate large companies, out of custom and deference they rarely use such aggressive tactics. They place few wiretaps, conduct almost no undercover operations and do almost no raids. Instead government attorneys reach carefully negotiated agreements about which documents they can review, the product of many hours of discussion with high-powered law firms

..  The government has essentially privatized corporate law enforcement. The government effectively outsources the investigations to the companies themselves. The companies, typically trying to appear cooperative or to forestall government action, hire law firms to do internal investigations. Imagine if Mr. Mueller relied on Mr. Trump to investigate whether he colluded with the Russians or violated any other laws, and Mr. Trump hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to do the inquiry.

.. Mr. Mueller isn’t looking to go soft to preserve his professional viability. I’m assuming that at age 74, he’s not going to go through the revolving door after this. That hasn’t been true for most top Justice Department officials in recent years. Many of them start out defending large corporations, and when they leave government they go back to the same work of defending large corporations.