Paul Manafort was just charged with 'conspiracy against the United States' -- here's what that means

Paul ManafortElsa/Getty ImagesFormer Donald Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

The indictment against President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates includes a count of “conspiracy against the United States.”

Of the 12 charges in the indictment, issued by a grand jury as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the “conspiracy” charge quickly gained attention amid other chargers of tax fraud and money laundering.

The conspiracy charge doesn’t have any direct connection to Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. Rather, it is a general charge stemming from any joint effort to defraud the US and is tied to the allegations involving Manafort’s and Gates’ money.

More simply, it’s a “conspiracy” because the charges involve two or more people.

Notably, the indictment doesn’t mention the Trump campaign.

It does, however, cite a specific part of the US legal code, 18 U.S.C. § 371, which covers “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

Here’s the relevant text of the statute:

“If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offence against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

According to the US Department of Justice’s website, the statute covers activities that “affect the government in at least one of three ways”:

  1. They cheat the government out of money or property;
  2. They interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity; or
  3. They make wrongful use of a governmental instrumentality.

Also cited on the DOJ’s explanation of the statute is a decision from former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who wrote, “To conspire to defraud the United States means primarily to cheat the Government out of property or money.”

Taft continued, “It also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.”

The statute is also listed under related penalties to general fraud on the IRS website.

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