America is swarming with Paul Manaforts

One possible lesson of the many brazen, conspicuous scandals related to President Trump and others in his orbit: The U.S. government has been massively underinvesting in enforcement and prosecution of white-collar crime.

.. There was the apparent treatment of the Trump Foundation as a personal checkbook, from which Trump used other people’s charitable donations to settle his for-profit businesses’ legal disputes and to purchase gigantic portraits of himself. The operation of Eric Trump’s personal foundation also has raised similar questions of self-dealing, according to Forbes.

.. Or there’s the fishy stock trades by Trump cronies, including Carl Icahn and even the current commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. Ross shorted the stock of a Kremlin-linked company days after he learned journalists were reporting a potentially negative story about the firm.

Or former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s failure to register as a foreign agent working on behalf of Turkey.

There’s a clear reason so many Trump-related figures likely felt free to engage in dodgy behavior in broad daylight: They didn’t expect anyone to care. And absent the scrutiny that came with Trump’s political success, such activities probably would have gone ignored.

.. Federal prosecutions of white-collar crime — a category that includes tax, corporate, health-care or securities fraud, among other crimes — are on track this year to reach their lowest level on record.

.. But the downward trend in white-collar and official-corruption prosecutions predates the Trump presidency. The Barack Obama administration, you may recall, was often criticized for failing to hold corporations and executives accountable in the wake of the financial crisis.

Some argue that big corporations and the wealthy have become too politically influential. Jesse Eisinger, in his excellent book “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives ,” blames a culture of risk aversion in the ranks of the Justice Department. Eric H. Holder Jr., an attorney general under Obama, once suggested that corporate consolidation left some firms too big to jail.

But undoubtedly part of the issue is resources.

After 9/11, for instance, terrorism investigations became more of a priority, crowding out available dollars and personnel for white-collar investigations.

.. Astonishingly, this decline in enforcement is now being cited as evidence of innocence. Manafort’s lawyer, in his opening statement last week, shamelessly suggested that his client must not be guilty of tax fraud because he’d never been audited. 

.. Joseph diGenova objected to Mueller’s criminal prosecution of Manafort in part because Manafort “has no criminal record.”

.. Manafort’s prosecution today is less a sign of Mueller’s overreach, and more a sign of the rest of our federal government’s decades of underperformance.

In another blow to Trump’s efforts to combat Russia probe, diGenova will no longer join legal team

Trump had hoped diGenova could serve as a surrogate in television interviews and play the role of attack dog in criticizing the Mueller probe.

Sekulow approached diGenova two weeks ago about joining the team, but it turned out that he and his wife run a law firm that represents clients with interests that would conflict with those of the president.

.. One is Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team and a witness in the Mueller investigation. He resigned in the wake of a dispute over the president’s role in a misleading statement about his campaign aides’ meeting with a Russian lawyer offering “dirt” on 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump Won’t Hire 2 Lawyers Whose Appointments Were Announced Days Ago

The president met with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing, who are married, in recent days to discuss the possibility that they would join his legal team in the Mueller case. According to two people told of details about the meeting, the president did not believe he had personal chemistry with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing.

.. But beyond that, Ms. Toensing is representing Mark Corallo, who was the spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team in 2017 before they parted ways.

Mr. Corallo has told investigators that he was concerned that a close aide to Mr. Trump, Hope Hicks, may have been planning to obstruct justice during the drafting of a statement about a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign.

.. Mr. diGenova had been expected to serve as an outspoken voice for the president as Mr. Trump has increased his attacks on Mr. Mueller. Mr. diGenova has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president, a theory with little supporting evidence.

“There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he had told Fox News in January.

.. Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Trump took to Twitter from his Florida resort to insist that he faced no problems finding lawyers to represent him in the Russia investigation.

.. Adding new lawyers, he said, would be costly because they would take months “to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more).”

“I am very happy with my existing team,” he added.

The Trump veto threat: Another presidential temper tantrum

Actually it is the president who abandoned the DACA kids. He was offered a deal by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — money for the border wall in exchange for DACA relief — but senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, along with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) nixed it. Or does Trump not remember?

.. Whatever his intention, Trump is communicating to Congress and the entire world that his word is worthless, that when you think you have a deal, you really don’t.

What then are the Europeans, in discussion with the administration over his threatened exit from the Iran nuclear deal, the South Koreans, the North Koreans, our trading partners and just about everyone else on the planet supposed to think?

.. “With Bolton, [Joseph E.] diGenova and [Mike] Pompeo feeding Trump’s worst instincts, we’re entering incredibly dangerous times.”

(He could add to the list Peter Navarro, Cotton, the right-wing echo chamber and his favorite Fox News propagandists — all of whom egg on Trump without regard for the catastrophe that might await us if he followed their advice.)

.. Trump is never going to get better, and chances are he’ll get much worse. Everyone should act accordingly.