Charlie is right, of course, that targeting people because they are unpopular, rather than targeting crimes and then prosecuting the people you can prove committed them, is a bad thing for prosecutors to do. It is, alas, not an unusual thing. Systems in which prosecutors are elected rather than appointed logically lend themselves to that sort of abuse. We see it empirically, as with New York State attorney general Letitia James, who unabashedly campaigned on a get-Trump platform and was elected by a mile.
I write only to add that the specific situation Charlie outlines is probably even worse than it appears to be.
According to the Times’ report, the target is Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump organization’s CFO. The news that he is in the prosecutorial crosshairs is not new. As the Washington Post reported in early March, Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s minions have been squeezing Weisselberg for a long time. He has been Trump’s top financial exec for over 20 years, and two of his sons are also entangled — one works for the Trump organization, the other has extended it credit. The elder Weisselberg has described himself as Donald Trump’s “eyes and ears . . . from an economic standpoint,” and he is said to be intimately familiar with all the organization’s most important transactions.
As the Post elaborated, one formula for “flipping” a confidant of the main suspect is to make him worry about his own legal jeopardy — which is often peripheral — in order to pressure him to reveal everything he knows about the suspect. That is, the confidant and his crimes are beside the point — the point of threatening prosecution is not to enforce the law at issue for its own sake; it is to net the big fish; and not on anything in particular, just something that might stick. Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, was doggedly pursued not because Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors were particularly interested in him or his fishy consulting work in Ukraine, but because they wishfully theorized that he might be able to hand up Trump — on . . . something.
These pressure tactics include putting the accomplice in a state of anxiety over not only his own wrongdoing but also that of his loved ones. Weisselberg, it is reported, was closely questioned about his sons’ activities (and the Times report Charlie refers to says school tuition for one of Weisselberg’s grandchildren is in the mix, too). It is reminiscent of the Mueller probe’s pressuring of Michael Flynn to plead guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI that even the agents who questioned him didn’t think he committed; part of prosecutors’ dance with Flynn included floating the possibility of prosecuting his son for failure to register as a foreign agent — a charge that the Justice Department rarely invokes.
Understand, the DA is not interested in Weisselberg’s sons, or the perks that he may have received, which would ordinarily not be worth a prosecutor’s time. The DA is not even interested in Weisselberg himself. The objective is Donald Trump, and Weisselberg is of importance only as a potential means to that end.
To paraphrase Lavrentiy Beria, show me the man and I’ll show you his friend’s crimes.