Last week, Michael Cohen admitted in court that he lied to Congress about Donald Trump’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It marked the first time the president’s private business dealings in Russia were directly implicated in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the broader Russia scandal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) didn’t much care, saying the wrongdoing from Trump’s former personal attorney “seems to be a process crime.”
This week, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing detailing former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s felonies. Asked for his reaction, Graham told CNN yesterday, “The charge leveled against Gen. Flynn is sort of a process crime.”
I realize that Mueller and his team recommended that Flynn not be locked up for his felonies, but reading Tuesday’s court filing, they didn’t downplay the significance of his crimes, either. From the filing:
“The defendant’s offense is serious. As described in the Statement of Offense, the defendant made multiple false statements, to multiple Department of Justice entities, on multiple occasions.”
Flynn lied about his communications with Russia, he lied about his work with Turkey, he gave false statements that was material to a serious ongoing counterintelligence investigation, and he tried to cover up the degree to which he’d been compromised.
To which Lindsey Graham, the lawmaker who’ll soon chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively said, “Yawn.”
If Republicans really are prepared to go all in on the “process crimes” talking point, let’s quickly go over again why this is such a weak argument.
As we discussed the other day, a “process crime” basically refers to wrongdoing related to an investigation into a crime, rather than the crime itself.
For example, let’s say you were suspected of robbing a bank. During the police investigation, you lied about your whereabouts during the robbery, encouraged others to give false testimony, and destroyed relevant evidence. As a result, you were then charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.
Those would be “process crimes,” unrelated to possible charges about the bank robbery itself.
For Trump’s followers, this has apparently become a life-preserver worth clinging to. “Felonies, schmelonies,” Graham and his cohorts seem to be arguing. “I’m looking for proof of collusion.”
There are a few problems with such a posture. The first is, when a president’s partisan followers are reduced to scoffing at the significance of felonies, they’re not standing on firm ground.
Second, I seem to recall Lindsey Graham serving as an impeachment manager 20 years ago against a sitting president accused of perjury. It suggests the Republican lawmaker’s indifference toward “process crimes” is fairly new.
And third, there’s no reason to assume the special counsel and his team are done. Criminal charges related to the “process” today may very well lead to an entirely different set of criminal charges tomorrow.