A little aside before I dive into this week’s proselytizing: I promised myself about two years ago I wouldn’t write any columns about U.S. President Donald Trump, mostly because I am not an American citizen and Trump’s antics and comments don’t really affect me.
Yes, I know, many of you reading this right now are calling me out by thinking something like, “Yeah, well, what about the tariffs?” I will submit to those critics that trade wars occur between nations all the time; Donald Trump isn’t the first one to instigate that.
Anyhoo, as a good journalist should, I’ve been keeping track of special investigator Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged criminal activities during the last U.S. presidential election campaign. Specifically, he’s investigating if, or to what extent, the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the campaign. Such collusion is illegal because the American people are supposed to pick their president, not the Russian people.
Huge problems occurred for Trump over the past few weeks as two key people involved in his campaign, lobbyist Paul Manafort and lawyer Michael Cohen, both pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Recently, Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which, essentially, makes him a traitor. Those convictions weren’t directly linked to the election campaign, though.
Cohen, apparently one of Trump’s errand boys, pleaded guilty in August to eight counts related to tax fraud, excessive campaign contributions, making false statements to a financial institution and unlawful corporate contributions. While not a traitor, it would appear Cohen is a scumbag.
As soon as these two pleaded guilty, it reminded me of two things: Mueller’s history as an FBI agent and the 1980s trial of famed New York mafia boss John Gotti.
Organized crime, by definition a conspiracy, has a deeply intertwined history within the United States. It took decades for police and prosecutors to develop techniques for gathering evidence, charging, convicting and sentencing mafioso like Gotti.
Gotti was referred to as “The Teflon Don,” referring to non-stick frying pans having something akin to Gotti, who prosecutors could make no crime stick to. Until they got his underboss.
Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was Gotti’s right-hand man and assassin, and knew where all the bodies were buried. Once the FBI arrested him, his fear of Gotti plus self-preservation (Manafort and Cohen sympathize, I’m sure) kicked in. He agreed to testify against Gotti and was given a light sentence despite Gravano’s involvement in 19 murders, while Gotti went away for life.
Mueller is no idiot, and it appears he’s using the same techniques to investigate Donald Trump’s election campaign that the FBI uses to investigate organized crime and other conspiracies.
Seasoned investigators like Mueller know that sending low-level soldiers to jail doesn’t stop a conspiracy. You have to investigate those soldiers, who tend to be sloppier than their top-level bosses, charge and convict them, then offer them deals to testify against their bosses. Sammy Gravano just broke fingers and legs when ordered to. John Gotti was the one planning the murders.
Interestingly, when Manafort entered his guilty plea he also noted he plans to cooperate with Mueller and his investigation of Trump’s election campaign.
Warranty Disclaimer: Of course, I’d like to point out that, as yet, there’s no evidence Donald Trump did anything wrong in his election campaign, or that, if laws were broken, he knew anything about it.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.