Manafort’s ‘Conspiracy’ Charge Isn’t Nearly As Serious As It Sounds

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There are some troubling allegations in the bombshell indictment against President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Yet one in particular, “conspiracy against the United States,” is not nearly as serious as the media seems to believe.

The United States Code states, in part, that if “two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States … each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

A fine and a maximum of a few years in prison aren’t quite what most people have in mind when they hear “conspiracy,” which, on its face, sounds analogous to “treason.” That, on the other hand, is punishable by an absolute minimum of five years in prison, a minimum of $10,000, and possibly death.

Conspiracy against the United States falls within the range of a Class E felony, which is the lowest felony classification under federal law and has a maximum of five years imprisonment. Other Class E felonies include engaging in the business of online gambling, illegally downloading movies, or perjury.

While these are all still serious crimes, compare that to the failing to file reports of foreign banks and financial accounts charges, which carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, or conspiracy to launder money, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

I’m not trying to downplay the conspiracy charge, but I think most would agree that whatever crime you are conspiring to commit is worse than the “conspiracy” itself. So why the focus on the conspiracy charge? Shouldn’t we care more about exactly what crime Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, were allegedly conspiring to commit rather than the simple fact that they were “conspiring”?

If you only paid attention to the headlines you would think the conspiracy charge is the most serious since that was the one being singled out.

NBC News tweeted:

BREAKING: Ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Richard Gates indicted on 12 counts, including ‘conspiracy against the United States’

CNN tweeted:

Ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his ally Rick Gates face 12 charges, including conspiracy against the US

Politico tweeted:

The charges against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates include ‘conspiracy against the United States.’

The Washington Post tweeted:

Paul Manafort and ex-business partner accused of conspiracy against the U.S., other charges in Mueller probe

Looking at these headlines it’s easy to see why one would think the conspiracy against the United States charge is more serious than it actually is, but looking at the actual indictment paints a clearer picture.

The indictment specifically says that Manafort and Gates are being charged with conspiracy against the United States for their agreements to: not file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, not register as an agent of a foreign principal, give false and misleading FARA statements, and make false statements to the Department of Justice.

Those underlying crimes, the ones Manafort and Gates are being accused of conspiring to commit, should be the ones singled out. Surely accepting money from a foreign government without disclosing it is much more concerning and serious than the act of simply agreeing with someone else to commit that crime.

The bottom line is, conspiracy against the U.S. sounds a lot more serious than it actually is, it even sounds like treason, and the media knows it. Why else would they single that count out over all the others? It sounds like a crime that would involve conspiring with the enemy against the U.S. even though there is no foreign element whatsoever to it. A businessman and his accountant could be rung up for conspiracy against the U.S. for coming to an agreement to falsify the businessman’s tax return. While that would be wrong, the act of actually falsifying the tax returns would be much worse.

The conspiracy charge is very important to the U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case, however, because it will allow them to present evidence connecting all these charges before a jury, but it should not be getting singled out above all other 11 counts in the news. There are plenty of very serious allegations in this indictment that the media should be highlighting rather than the one that will drive the most clicks.

Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.