What Paul Manafort is Actually on Trial For

1040 Tax Form

Paul Manafort, who briefly served as US president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, faces two criminal trials, the first of which began on July 31. While the second trial (involving allegations that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal) will be of more interest to those following the “Russiagate” probe, this first trial really should interest all Americans.

In headlines, media coverage generally refers to the charges against Manafort as involving “fraud.” In this case, he’s charged with bank fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy, words which shed some more light on what he’s actually accused of. In English:

Manafort allegedly worked in Ukraine, earned money in Ukraine, and then did various things (including omitting assets in bank loan applications — that’s the “bank fraud” part) with various accomplices (that’s the “conspiracy” part) to keep that money hidden from the Internal Revenue Service (that’s the “tax evasion” part).

If you’re wondering why on earth the US government would consider money earned in a foreign country any of its business, or think itself entitled to grab some of that money for itself, you’re not alone.

The United States is one of only three governments on Earth — the other two are Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship in North Korea and Isaias Afwerki’s dictatorship in Eritrea — that demand payment of income taxes on money earned abroad by “their citizens.”

The US government is unique among western democracies in declaring itself entitled to steal not just part of one’s income earned within its jurisdiction, but also part of one’s income earned anywhere and everywhere.

Paul Manafort allegedly hid his money from extortionists. Now the extortionists want him put in a cage for trying to avoid their racket. Whatever else he may have done, that’s the sum total of this case.

He shouldn’t have HAD to hide his money. He shouldn’t be blamed for trying to do so. The IRS didn’t earn that money. He did. And he earned it in a place where he wasn’t availing himself of the services US taxes supposedly pay for.

The prosecution’s strategy, so far, seems to be to make the jury hate Paul Manafort by demonstrating that he’s a rich guy who buys expensive stuff and lives a lavish lifestyle. Smart move. If the jury considered the true nature of what he’s actually charged with, they’d likely be inclined to acquit him. Which, in fact, is what they should do.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.