You’ve probably seen this tweet:
@Pappiness: As part of Paul Manafort’s plea deal, he’ll forfeit bank accounts and properties worth about $46 million dollars. Someone should let Trump know that the Muller investigation just paid for itself.
This is an understandable but unprincipled way to view a criminal investigation. It’s fighting the battle on Trump’s chosen terms. He’s good at getting people to do that. Stop playing his game.
Criminal investigation isn’t about making money. It’s a service, a public good, that is paid for by taxes. Money it generates should go into general revenue.
What it costs to investigate a crime is often well out of proportion with the monetary cost of that crime, and that can be a just expenditure of money. We recognize the injustice of measuring the value of justice by its cost…in principle–even as we tolerate it in practice! The murder of a rich woman should not get a bigger, better investigation than that of a poor man. There isn’t any just way to say one death is worth more than another. Wealthy neighborhoods get better police protection and investigation than others. These practices have to change.
We’ve seen what happens when money from investigations is given to the investigating unit. It often leads to fraud, both outright criminal fraud leading to convictions and casual fraud of the everyday sort. For instance: Seizing a muscle car and letting that unit keep the car for use in “investigations”. That’s legal but not legit.
We all know of towns that fund themselves with speed traps. We all know of rich people walking away from DUIs in ways that poor people can’t.
You know who else walks away from big-ass felonies by forfeiting money? The finance industry. Look at the number of charges which get dropped because the company involved agreed not to fight and to forfeit a lot of cash. Do the responsible individuals get punished? Sure. They feel it in their reduced bonuses or golden parachutes. Does it hold down financial crime? Does it deter or incapacitate the perpetrators, provide retribution or restoration? Does it do any of that? Or does it make getting caught at financial crime against ordinary citizens just a routine risk of business to be figured into ever-increasing interest rates and noted in a cheery stockholders’ report?
What it comes down to is that making revenue generation the goal of law enforcement–especially making the argument for a particular investigation by how it pays for itself, rather than how much truth and justice it delivers–is Ferguson, Missouri justice.
Ferguson discriminatorily squeezed some of its citizens under color of law to pay for a government the rest of its citizens wouldn’t pay enough in taxes to run. Whether it was pure racial oppression or simple class warfare–it’s harder to parse them apart than it is to separate salt from sugar–does not change our judgement that it is wrong.
That doesn’t mean seizing Manafort’s money wasn’t just. Getting money back from crooked financial institutions is just, even if it isn’t sufficiently just or perfectly just. If it’s a good start, I say live with that and improve later on.
“We got the money!” is a lousy justification for seeking criminal justice in the first place. Whether it’s profitable to investigate my murder shouldn’t determine whether my killer is found. Getting the money to fund government through prosecution is an unjust way of providing government. These are basic principles. Let’s respect them.