When I first began to practice law, I was with a small, general practice firm that took whatever walked in the door. At one point, we had a federal court appointment to represent a defendant in an alleged drug conspiracy involving the Pagans motorcycle gang.
In response to our discovery requests, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dumped on us a ton of wiretap transcripts between the various Pagans and their followers and even mail that had been picked up in physical searches. When I say “dumped,” I mean “thrown in a box, randomly and in no particular order, and delivered to us.” It was my job to go through each piece of paper to see whether there was any possible evidence that would exculpate our client.
As I read the material, a strange pattern appeared. The Pagans did not believe that they were engaged in any wrongdoing. Rather, they believed that they were the objects of a conspiracy of by law enforcement and were being unfairly persecuted. In a very real way, it was like looking through a window into a universe of some alternative reality.
Tonight, I read the Sean Hannity/Paul Manafort text message “conversation.” Again, I had the same feeling of looking at some alternative reality. Manafort believed that the Office of Special Prosecutor, particularly Andrew Weisman, was in a conspiracy with the “Main Stream Media” to frame him. I don’t know whether Hannity actually also believed that, but he certainly feed Manafort’s fantasy.
The text stream ended on June 5, 2018. Since then, Manafort has been convicted by a jury of five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts and two counts of bank fraud. The jury voted 11-1 on 10 other charges. And, of course, Manafort has pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy. There was a conspiracy, but no one conducted by prosecutors.
I haven’t had much contact with the criminal justice system since those early days in practice. But perhaps because also I watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story tonight and then read the text exchange, I saw certain of Dylan’s lyrics in a different light. That is, perhaps most criminal defendants are as self-deluded as those Pagans and Paul Manafort:
Down here next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him cry so loud
Calling out that he’s been framed