Mueller's new fishing hole: 'Conspiracy to defraud the government'

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is invoking a new charge in his Captain Queeg search for the lost strawberries.  He is looking to tie Trump and his aides to a "conspiracy to defraud the government charge."

What makes this such a stretch is that Mueller apparently doesn't have to tie it to a criminal action.  This puts a lot more of Trump's aides in danger of being ensnared in Mueller's ever widening net.

Washington Times:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors have invoked an unusual "conspiracy to defraud the government" charge to ensnare a Russian cyber network and could use the same legal strategy to go after President Trump and his associates, even if the conspiracy is not linked to a criminal act.

Although the president constantly denies any wrongdoing, Mr. Mueller's 10-month-long investigation has become the heart of the Trump-Russian election meddling saga, dominating headlines and leaving the White House tangled in conflict and controversy as additional charges have also been filed against four of his close associates – with further indictments likely.

Last month, Mr. Mueller, a Republican and former FBI director, indicted 13 Russian nationals connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) Russian "troll farm," accusing the IRA of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading fake news stories through U.S. social media.  The same approach was employed in securing a plea deal last month with Rick Gates, the aide for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

What has attracted attention in legal circles is the underlying legal theory behind the indictments, accusing the Russians of essentially committing a crime by preventing agencies of the U.S. government from carrying out the duties.  Mr. Mueller appears to be leveraging the theory "into a powerful instrument with respect to both foreign and domestic actors," according to a recent article on Lawfare, a national security blog by the Lawfare Institute and Brookings Institution.

Emma Kohse, Harvard International Law Journal editor-in-chief, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Lawfare blog's top editor, argue that, based in the language of the indictments and the legal precedents behind them, the "conspiracy to defraud the government" charge provides the Mueller team with significant flexibility in trying to build a case against Mr. Trump and members of his 2016 campaign.

Nothing quite excites partisan investigators like the term "significant flexibility."  This is great news for Mueller and the Democrats.  Trump aides who never committed a criminal act could be caught up in Mueller's dragnet and sent to jail.

The danger quotient just shot up for the president and his aides:

The crime of "conspiracy to defraud the United States," the authors noted, is not new, but sets up a very different legal battle than [sic] trying to prove outright that Mr. Trump or his associates actively colluded with Russians to alter the outcome of the 2016 election.

The "conspiracy to defraud" approach, the Lawfare authors point out, "has been sitting in plain sight in the general conspiracy statute ... since 1948 (and an earlier provision with substantially similar language dates to 1867).  The statute makes it illegal for two or more persons to 'conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.'"

The authors add that "unlike conspiracy to commit an offense, conspiracy to defraud the United States need not be connected to a specific underlying crime," and "defraud" is not defined by the law.

At least in the Clinton investigation, there was an actual criminal act – perjury – that led to the denial of Paula Jones's rights and obstructed the Starr investigation.

Now Mueller is saying he doesn't have to prove that a criminal act resulted from the underlying actions of aides for the conspiracy charge to stick. 

I'm sure Democratic legal experts are cheering Mueller on at this point.  But at what cost?  These Mickey Mouse charges are going to be used in an attempt to overturn the legitimate election of a president.  Don't you think legal standards should be extraordinarily strict if that's the case?

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